Job Search

Interview Question: What did you like least about your last job?

Oh, the interview questions hiring managers will throw at us when we are must vulnerable during the interview. Things are moving along nicely, then comes this zinger: “Tell me what you least liked about your last job?”

The question begs you to bare your soul about all that was horrible about your last job, last manager, and last team. Because the question begs you to bare your soul about your last job (or your current one), too often people do just that. That would be an incorrect approach.

This interview question is about your motivation to do the work

Tough times happen in every job no matter how much you like doing it. This interview question probes to find out your pain points on the job and what you do about them. The fact that the question begs for negative answers simply masks the intent: how motivated are you to do the work?

How not to answer this interview question

“What did you like least about your last job?” opens it up to go negative. Don’t fall for that trap. You really can’t go negative because, as soon as you do, you are viewed as someone who whines and complains. And you’ll do that with this position too. No hiring manager wants to hire a whiner and complainer; there is too much to get done.

Don’t complain about your current or former manager. Don’t complain about your current or former team of coworkers. Don’t complain about the company.

I once explained that the reason I was leaving was because my current manager was 2000 miles from me and wanted me to call him before I talked to his manager who had his office 20-feet from mine. One sentence. My inside person later came back to me and said the hiring manager thought I was very negative about my manager and didn’t want anything to do with me. Seriously, one sentence and it wasn’t even negative; it was about the logistics not working right.

Didn’t matter. (Of course, would you want to work for a manager who thought that was negative? Not me, so it turned out to be a good thing…).

How to answer the “What did you like least about your last job?” interview question

The best way to answer this question is to focus on you and what you want in a position and how the last job isn’t providing it any more.

“The last job helped me build my business analyst skills, but now I want to focus on turning those skills to that of a project manager.”

“The last job helped me develop handling medium projects, but now I want to move to even larger sized projects with more responsibility.”

“The last job had a budget of $1 million and I am ready to handle larger responsibilities.”

Thus, the last job was a “good job,” but you have outgrown it or want to move your work into a slightly different direction that the old job can no longer provide.

Turn the negative into a positive

These questions, begging you to go negative, need to turn around into something positive about you and your work. The way to do that is understanding what the question is really about (motivated to do the work?) and then explaining how the old job built your skills but you are now ready for something different.

What other negative interview questions have you been asked?

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Job Performance

I love Wildly Important Goals

I love WIG’s — Wildly Important Goals. You should too.

Several years ago, I took The 4 Disciplines of Execution course from FranklinCovey. The course was mostly about setting up the foundation, through goals, of excellent execution. The course covered how to build goals, measurement systems, and how to determine an objective’s importance. It’s a good course.

But what fascinated me were WIG’s.

Here’s the underlying premise: in their work, people can only concentrate on 2-3 big goals over a long period of time. A period of time such as a year — the time frame for an annual review. Any more goals than that become a distraction.

Wildly Important Goals are simply defined: if we don’t do X goal, we will fail.

That’s it.

It’s wildly important because if we don’t do it, we will fail.

This type of goal has great benefits — but also a few drawbacks. Let’s take a look.

Wildly Important Goals’s Drive Employee Engagement

When your sole work role is to complete one or two Wildly Important Goals, your attitude toward work changes in a lot of ways:

  • When you agreed to this important goal, you realized it was an important goal. The filtering process helps drive this home, but wouldn’t you work a lot differently if you knew the work was important and not just management saying it was important?
  • You have time to focus. Focus affects your performance like nothing else. Being able to focus on 1-2 goals for the year clearly eliminates the chattering noise looking for attention.
  • If you won’t accomplish the goal, we will fail. Um, we’re really counting on you — and so is your team. If you don’t do it, we’ll fail. Changes your perspective, doesn’t it?
  • A wildly important goal will get attention, resources, and roadblocks removed so as to achieve the goal. Because it’s wildly important.

How WIG’s worked for me as a manager

I had the opportunity as a manager to implement Wildly Important Goals for one review period with my group. Initially, it was a little hard to determine what was wildly important — compared to just important (the enemy of “great” is “good”) — but once we did and got moving on the goals, some great things happened:

  • Everyone in the group knew their role on the team.
  • Everyone knew their goal was important to the team.
  • Because it was wildly important, each team member had no issues coming to me or other members of the team to figure out how to get something done or to remove roadblocks.
  • Creativity shot up over the work being done because each person was both constrained by the goal and could focus their time on the goal instead of the latest and loudest.
  • Aggressive goals were knocked out of the ball park. And I thought they were hard goals.

Wildly Important Goals won’t work in every work environment

To be fair, my belief is most companies, certainly most large companies, won’t implement this method of goal setting. There is some specific reasoning behind this belief:

  • There is too much corporate culture belief where goals need to cascade to the various departments and finally to specific individuals. Multiple goals, certainly important ones, will instead drive the goal-setting process because of this belief.
  • Let’s be frank: fewer goals is scary. Especially if you don’t hit them even if they are wildly important and you don’t get close. Or you do get close but still just miss. What happens to your performance review rating then? This is what initially drove the people that worked for me away from this approach. This approach requires a lot of trust between the manager and team.
  • Workability with compensation also plays a factor in this: “meeting expectations” for a WIG is really not the best way to reward someone who hit a really important goal – a goal where the department fails if it is not met. There is much about performance reviews that drives performance review ratings to “meeting expectations” – successful ratings that result in a large group of people getting the average salary and bonus so as to hit the compensation budget. WIG’s don’t nicely fit into that framework.
  • And, from an employee perspective, there are times where one needs to play career defense — in a troubled corporate environment, having more goals that drives you to a “meets expectation” rating would be the smart move compared to having two wildly important goals and missing them both – even though the miss would be better than meeting all the other “important” goals cascaded from upper management.

Yearly goals are changing — and that’s good for Wildly Important Goals

There is a growing body of evidence that yearly goals, while still prevalent in the vast majority of workplaces, aren’t that great, whether they are wildly important or not. The reason goes back to focus — focusing on a few (or many) goals is very difficult over the course of an entire year.

  • There is a reason there is the “set the goals and they get shoved into a drawer” meme out there — one year is too long of a time frame to focus
  • And…the business changes over the course of the year and the goals are no longer relevant.
  • Or your manager changes during the year and the goals now change or are no longer relevant (I’ve never had the same manager give me my annual performance review two years in a row my entire career, save for one manager).

The good news is that there is now a movement to focus on goals for the next three months. Quarterly goals that, while they could be a one-year goal at the end, are specific milestones that can be achieved in the quarter. Some companies have modified the goal delivery to a variable amount of time agreed upon by the manager and employee. And the 12-Week Year book has spawned a movement to chunk the goals into what can be done in the 12-weeks — because it raises the focus and importance of each week in achieving the goal.

That means those quarterly goals can now be wildly important because of the shorter time frame.

In my corporate world, I’ve only been able to operate with this type of goal one time and the experience was wonderful for all of the reasons I’ve listed above. I’m hoping with the changes in goal setting we’re now seeing along with the push for more quarterly goals that Wildly Important goals will return.

What’s Wildly Important in your life that needs to be done?

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Job Performance

The subtle – and not subtle – actions that ruin your productivity

Even when you know multi-tasking doesn’t work — we do it anyway. We can’t seem to help it. There are ways that we sabotage ourselves, though. We allow out software programs to default ways to interrupt us. Our physical location supports being interrupted. We don’t take a hard enough look at these situations to help make them better.

We need to make our productivity better by default.

Multi-tasking is not really possible anyway. The way our brain works is that we focus on one task, then quickly switch to another, then switch back to what we were doing. We are working on a report, the meeting notice for the meeting comes up 15-minutes before the meeting, we see that notice – breaking what we were working on — and then go back to what we were working on.

That little thing is “multi-tasking” but what really happens is we focus on one thing, switch focus to the invite popping up, then switch back to what we were originally working on.

That simple move costs us dearly in terms of our ability to perform. As Cynthia Kubu, PhD, and Andre Machado, MD note:

Repeatedly switching back and forth from project to project, like a hummingbird darting from flower to flower and then back to the original flower, can impair our ability to function at our finest.

Having those interruptions — or seriously trying to do two things at once — ends up being ineffective:

…a respected Stanford University study actually showed that those who consider themselves to be great multitaskers made more mistakes, remembered fewer details and actually took longer to complete tasks than those who did not consider themselves to be frequent multitaskers.

Okay, so multi-tasking is bad. Perhaps we can all agree that, at a minimum, trying to multi-task is not optimum.

The interesting thing is that even if we agree that we shouldn’t be multi-tasking, we end up sabotaging ourselves simply in the way we’ve set up our environment to work. Let’s take a look:

Kill your notifications

Every app does one of two things to interrupt your life: set default notifications or ask to push notifications to you.

Microsoft Outlook — email

Outlook has a default to notify you every single time you get a new email. Every single one. In one of my larger companies I worked for, millions of emails are received every month. The default setting means employees will be interrupted millions of times a month.

Even being inside Mail for Outlook means that as you are writing emails, a new email pops into your inbox and you quickly glance at it to see what the subject line is — and it breaks what you are trying to finish right now.

The way to solve this is to go into the settings and change the default notification to none. Don’t let that message slide in from the lower corner — it will interrupt you dozens of times a day.

And when you are writing an email, minimize the email window while you are writing your email so you don’t see the email coming into your inbox, breaking your concentration.

Pro benefit: turning off those notifications means you won’t have your email notification interrupt your presentation. Based on some emails flying around, that could render a big benefit…

Microsoft Outlook — meetings

Outlook defaults to a notification of 15-minutes before your next meeting. Somewhere on your screen – even behind some open Windows — that meeting notice pops up.

What do you normally do with it? Most used options:

  • You leave the notification open. This distracts you even more because now you look at the notification often to see how much time is left before the meeting. Every time you look at it, it breaks your concentration.
  • Or, you look down at the notification and see the Snooze button and you click that with the reminder of 5-minutes before the meeting. That results in giving you two notifications before the meeting, disrupting your 15-minutes twice.

I solve this two ways. First, I go into the Calendar settings and set MY default notification for meetings to five-minutes before the meeting. No one does this; I just do it to run counter to the default interruption.

Second, when I invariably get the default 15-minute meeting notice from everyone else, I, yes, go to the snooze button — but I pick zero minutes before the meeting and snooze the notice until the meeting starts.

There is a small decision on five minutes versus zero minutes: five minutes if I need to walk to a faraway conference room. Otherwise, since the vast majority of my meetings are calls, I set it to zero minutes before the start.

Skype Teams Slack etc.

These types of applications just hit you after the other person hits “enter” on the message. It’s an electronic “walk up to your cube and start talking” moment. It breaks whatever you’re doing.

Not only that, but, again, if you are presenting to an audience in a meeting, everyone gets to see whatever message whoever is sending to you. (To be fair, Skype for Business puts you into Do Not Disturb mode while you are presenting to prevent this very thing). Think about some of the IM’s you receive and figure out how much you’d like others to see those messages. After all, they just randomly show up based on what hundreds of your coworkers are doing at the time that might involve you providing an answer.

Just because it is an Instant Message doesn’t mean you need to do an Instant Answer. Turn the notifications off. They will be there when you are ready to see them. Just because someone else is looking for an instant answer (and I am very guilty of doing this as well, so no awesomeness here…) doesn’t mean you need to break your productivity and provide them with an Instant Answer.

That special case: I chat with my wife — not on corporate assets — as many of us do in order to handle home stuff. Almost all of us with family do so. But here’s the deal: even if the interruption is from family, it’s still an interruption. Think of yourself being in the middle of trying to reconcile a spreadsheet and you start getting IM’s from your significant other. Just like I am now trying to write this article! It’s an interruption and it breaks your train of thought.

If what you are doing requires concentration, put yourself in Do Not Disturb mode and let whoever know beforehand you’re doing it. Then notify them when you’re off Do Not Disturb mode.

Pro Tip: Take 30-minutes right now and go through all of your notification settings. The ones at work. The ones you use for your personal devices. The default position should be OFF. Do not allow some mindless application to decide for you that you should have interruptions that have a Sound, a Banner, and a persistent banner even in lock mode.

Remember, you’re supposed to be the one in charge of how you want notifications and when you’ll allow an application to interrupt you. Don’t give that right away.

Your work environment

Unfortunately, almost all of us work in an open cubicle type of environment. And while management thinks that the open environment offers up great collaboration benefits, actual studies show open environments are terrible for getting things done.

…review of more than 100 studies on open offices found that the layout consistently led to lower rates of concentration and focus, and a third paper, which analyzed more than 50 surveys on open offices, found consistent complaints about noise and interruptions

Another survey of 38,000 knowledge workers “found that one of the biggest losses of productive time during the day stemmed from interruptions by colleagues.”

Ah, yes, the interruptions from our colleagues.

I really like my coworkers. I just don’t like them interrupting me when I’m trying to get stuff done. Which, to be fair, is almost all the time. I don’t like working 50-hours a week or more, so I try really hard to get stuff done during normal working hours. Because I do that, I like to think I’m a lot more productive than most. (I also totally fail to get stuff done all the time, but I keep trying).

After all, when you walk into work and the first thing you do is chat about what happened yesterday for 45-minutes with your coworkers – at least for me – you’re ruining my time to get caught up on the overnight email from other continents and prep time for my first meetings.

Even Outlook is suggesting that you block some time on your calendar for “focus time” – time to get things done. But putting it on your calendar may prevent meeting invites (and even then, not all the time), but it doesn’t prevent the vast assortment of interruptions from notifications and people doing drive-by’s and interrupting your work. And the interruptions add up:

A recent study conducted at the University of California, Irvine indicated that most people take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from an interruption. That’s actually a pretty long time, and it can really add up over the course of a day.

Even with the ubiquitous headphones on signaling you’re working on something, people will interrupt you. They may apologize for interrupting you, but interrupt you nonetheless.

There is only one answer: to get things done, you can’t really do it in your cubicle. You have to go somewhere else. (queue: irony for having a dedicated space for work)

I’ve gone to common areas; it helps, but doesn’t work. I’ve gone to hotel-type cubes out of my area and that doesn’t help. I’ve even gone to hotel-type cubes in a different building and I still get interrupted.

Again, I like my colleagues, but the interruptions are just killer to getting things done.

The only answer

One can’t be totally isolated all the time and expect to be a good coworker. There is some level at which you need to be in your cube, available to your coworkers, working on things where it would be okay to pay the interruption price.

But if you’re going to work on something that takes concentration — my classic example in my own job is reconciling financials with project plans — it’s best if you set yourself up for no interruptions so you can get the task done.

It means: putting yourself into a Do Not Disturb mode on all your apps or devices and literally going somewhere where you won’t be interrupted. Personally, I work from home on those days where I have a lot of concentrated work to do. A coffee shop might also work — you have the white noise going on, of course, but if you are in a place where people don’t know you, it can be effective.

In the end, I just want to get work done during the business day and leave it there. It’s surprisingly difficult to set those boundaries.

What have you done to help minimize interruptions? Let me know in the comments.

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Job Performance

4 email practices to significantly improve your communication

Email is the bane of my existence. I get too many emails, emails that don’t pertain to my work (much) and emails that I spend way too much time trying to figure out what the person is asking for. It’s time consuming, wasteful, and the result is miscommunication, configuring an incorrect task, or missing that the item was for you when the email didn’t say so.

That’s on the receiving end. On the giving end, people don’t read your emails. If they do read emails, the don’t read all of the email. And they honestly have poor comprehension of what is being asked for.

Some of this is understandable — we work in open cubicle farms, there are all sorts of people talking around us, we get pinged on Skype, Teams, Slack, another email pops into the box while we’re reading the email at hand pulling us away from what we’re doing. And the phone / drive-by / questions from across the aisle interruptions. Plus — if you’re not careful — a continuous flow of notifications sliding into view on your screen.

It’s amazing we get anything done.

We’re also not going to solve email problems by making them go away. Nor are we going to have other people magically change how they approach email so that you’ll get 100% of your point(s) across.

There are some email practices, however, that can significantly improve your chances of getting your point across or getting the right task in place for a person. Let’s take a look.

Put your request as the first line of the email

This matches how you should be talking to upper management where you are making requests. When you state your request up front, it tells the other person what you want or want to tell them. Then the balance of the email is all about context – why you want them to do something, how you want them to do something, or what the context is that prompted the request.

By putting the request as the first line, it allows the reader to know where you are going with the rest of the email.

It does you no good to summarize what you want at the end (I was very guilty of this) — by then, the reader is confused, even with short emails, about where you are going and by the time you tell them, they don’t remember the reasons why.

Check it out yourself — take the next five emails sent to you and figure out where the “ask” is in the email. If it’s not in the first line, you’ll fumble your way around the email and then have to connect all the dots — and misinterpret the dots — to figure out why the person is asking for what they are asking for.

Pro Tip: Have a subject line that states the request or question you have for the recipient. Take a look at the subject lines of your received email and see if you can figure out the request from the subject line. Without that in the subject line, aren’t you less likely to be read that email?

Only ask for one thing or ask one question per email

Apparently, we’ve become highly transactional and can really only handle one thing at a time (while claiming we can multi-task all day long).

If you put two requests or two questions in an email, I can predict you’ll only get a response to one of them.

Even if you NUMBER them:

  1. Request number one
  2. Request number two

The response will come back with the answer to one. Or the other. Not both. Drives me crazy.

I don’t know if it is because people are answering one of them and by the time they’re done they’ve forgotten there were two requests. Or the didn’t want to answer the second request / question because “reasons” or what.

So write two emails. One question / request in each. Yes, it’s more emails getting thrown around. But you’ll more likely get your answer or your request handled.

Limit your email to 3 (small) paragraphs

Small. Not like having only one glass of wine and the glass is the size of the bottle. Not three paragraphs with each paragraph taking half a page.

More like the first paragraph in this article — three sentences. People don’t read long emails unless you give them a very good reason to do so — and even then, it’s better to attach a file and use the three paragraphs to explain what you want and what is in the attached file.

And if you’ve been following this along, you’ll note that the first paragraph is really just one sentence: your ask or question. That gives you two paragraphs to explain the rest – unless you put the request in the Subject line.

Pro tip: if more than 3 paragraphs are needed for whatever reason (perhaps a status report), bold section headings with no more than 3 paragraphs in a bolded section. This way, just like this article, your reader can skim the headings and focus on what they are interested in reading. (you are reading everything I’m writing, right?)

Just remember: your ask or question, regardless of sections, still needs to be the first sentence of the email.

Give the first time reader the summary – not expect them to read 10 emails down

I had a request come to me where I was added as a recipient – after about ten emails in the chain – that really was just three paragraphs. It was a request to include some certificates into the budget for my project. My response was that I was happy to do so — please send me the cost of the certificates so I could include the dollars.

The response? See the email ~5 emails down and the costs are shown there.

There are problems with this:

  • You didn’t tell me the cost of the certificates  the first time around. You assumed I’d read 5 emails down to see if it was there (see: Limit your email to 3 small paragraphs — because people won’t read the rest)
  • When you responded back, you STILL didn’t give me the cost of the certificates; I now had to scroll down 5-7 emails to discover the table where the certificate costs were.

Thus, three emails when one would do. A total waste of time searching for something — essentially, not giving you the answer, but expecting you to go find it when that person is the one that was requesting something of me! “Here. Go look it up in chapter 27 of War and Peace. It’s right there.”

Right.

Much easier to give the particulars right there when adding someone new to the distribution:

Scot – can you add the cost of certificates to your budget? We didn’t realize we’d need to get the certificates as part of the build out. The quote five emails down is for $2,000 per certificate and we need 2o certificates. Thanks…

There’s the request. There’s the context. There’s the cost. One email, one response.

Putting it all together for better communications

Following these practices significantly increases the probability (that’s all it is – a probability) that your email will get read, you’ll get a proper response to your question / request, and you’ll do it with minimal back and forth.

And it will save a bit of your sanity.

Look — open your business email. Look at the first ten emails you get. See how many of the ten emails follow these practices. Then take a little bit of time looking at each email and determine how you would have restructured it following these points presented. No more than 15-minutes – just enough to see how much better the communication could have been if that person would have done the principles expressed here.

Then go do them yourself and see how much your emails stand out compared to the (hundreds of) emails most people get a day. It makes a difference.

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Management styles interview question
Cube Rules Commentary

What got you to Level One will not get you to Level Two

At the beginning of your career, your technical skills matter the most. Whether you're in business, healthcare, or other service industries, your job skills will carry the day with a hiring manager.

Truth be told, you won't have a lot of experience starting out -- perhaps valuable internships -- so proving you can do the job is of paramount importance.

If you consider that as your Level One, simply having great skills won't get you to Level Two. There's more to do at Level Two. More considerations. More to prove before you can get there.

And while you can up-level your career many times, right now, in the position you're in, you're in a new Level One. If you're interested in moving up or over, what you're doing now isn't enough to get you to Level Two. It never is, right?

All nice, of course. But what, exactly, does it take to up-level the next level? To that next position you want to have? 

There are things you must prove. Let's take a look at them...

1. Job Skills still rule

Regardless of where you are on the career path you still need to prove that you can do the job through your job skills. Consequently, as you go forward in your career you need to continually build skills that will enable you to do the work you need to do in the next position. While it's true that job skills will not be as important the longer you go in your career the bottom line is still that you must have skills to do the work or you will fail.

2. Your job performance counts

While your job skills may not be as important the longer you go in your career, the truth of the matter is is that your job performance counts more than anything. If you end up doing good work and your job performance is always stellar, you'll end up being looked at as a person who knows how to do their job, has the skills to do their job, and consequently will be presented with opportunities.

Promotions and lateral moves don't just happen. Hiring managers looking for people who will fill their position - people who have proven that they can do the work and have the skills to do the job. The way they do that is looking at your job performance and doing an evaluation as to whether or not you can help with their business priorities and and achieving them.

Cubicle Warriors understand that job performance is the most important piece of getting a new position. If you are not performing in your current position it's extremely difficult to find a new position where you'll find satisfaction. You have to prove in your current position that you can have a good job performance. I understand that's not always easy to do especially if you have a poor manager. But good job performance is a big differentiator for most people and you need to strive to get it.

3. How you interact with people counts

Regardless of all the management theory out there, work gets done with people.

And they come in all different personalities, backgrounds, temperaments, and motivation. Navigating all that is challenging. Working with all those different types of people can be hard.

If you're an individual contributor, you can't tick everyone off. And if you're a manager, you can't fire everyone. Consequently, how you work with people to get work done is an important skill that grows ever more important as you go through your career.

4. Your business network matters

As you know more people -- and work well with them -- you will develop a reputation. Hopefully, that reputation is one where you get stuff done, get along with people, and know your stuff.

Here's what happens then: people leave your company and go work at other companies.

Why is that important? Because people who leave your company will want to work with you. They will tell you about job openings.  And if you are looking for a position, they will help you find a position in their new company. Or hire you as a hiring manager.

You've heard of the "hidden job market"? This is how it works: A person has a good work and results reputation, other managers who know you working in other companies -- or your own company -- know of an opening, and then you get the phone call or email asking if you're interested.

And that is what gets you to Level Two.  

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Job Performance

How to deal with too many tasks and not enough time

Since February, my work life has been filled with hundreds of tasks needing to be done on hard (political) deadlines with not enough resources or time to do them. While I put lots of boundaries around my personal life so that my work life doesn’t intrude, one’s life is a whole unit and there were several times when I was doing more work during my “personal” time than I wanted.

As a project manager, I’ve had to actively manage two large projects and supervise two large other projects. Supervise means to publish status on, do financials for, prepare decks for executive working groups, and make sure the projects stays on track. That means I’m in the email loop, working closely with the project manager, and watching what is happening.

I’m not in that overwhelm situation any more. There is still a tremendous amount of work to do, there are still times when the hours are long, but I’m personally in a much better place.

Now, I’m not going to give you “5 cool tips to reduce your overwhelm,” but there are a few tactics I did that really helped in the long run.

Everyone’s way of getting out of overwhelm is different — mostly depending on how you handle stress — so all of these tactics may not apply to you. But they might. Give them a try and see how well they work for you.

Let’s take a look…

I fixed my mindset

If you think about stressful times in your life, it’s easy to sink yourself into a hole and easy to keep on digging. One of the hardest pieces of getting out of overwhelm is getting your mindset into a position where you know you need to live with ambiguity. Maybe for quite a while. That you know you won’t get everything done. That what you are dealing with is what I call a blob – this mass of things all balled up and seemingly cannot be penetrated. A blob that feels as though it can’t be organized. A blob that when you jump into it reveals even more stuff you didn’t know you need to do.

The mindset piece is to recognize both the blob and the overwhelm feeling and, with the recognition, be okay with it. It is where you are.

Of course, this is not easy. But recognize it every day and soon you will put a little distance from it, gather a little perspective, and from that perspective, gain a bit more control.

How well do you deal with ambiguity? Yeah, that’s the good question.

Do one proactive thing a day

I have this rule: if you want to get out of firefighting mode, you need to do at least one proactive thing a day. One thing that will help fix what is causing the fire in the first place. It doesn’t need to be a big proactive action; it just needs to be a proactive action to move your situation along.

Maybe it is something simple like finding all of your invoices associated with your current monthly finances and finally knowing where all the hidden invoices are located in systems so the next time you look you’ll immediately capture them. Maybe it is taking the extra two hours out of your day to provide context to the work your new contractor is going to do to help that person ramp up faster.

Essentially, by doing one proactive thing a day, you’re solving some sort of problem every day. Rather than reacting to the problem today, then reacting to the same problem a week from now, you solve the problem today so it doesn’t come up next week in the first place.

In an overwhelm mode, I’ve never been able to do more than one proactive thing in a day — sometimes none in a day. But if you can fix your mindset and do one proactive action a day, you’ll start to take chunks out of that blob you’re facing so you can start to organize it and figure it out.

Figure out the most important thing to work on and get it to completion

There is the “urgent” quadrant and the “important” quadrant. Urgent needs handling, but what I’m talking about here is the “important” stuff.

Important stuff varies depending on where you are on the continuum and what the demands are. Just think of it as this: If I don’t start this now and get it done soon, later on (next week, next month) this will blow up in my face. Yes, it’s self-defense. That’s okay.

Here was an important thing to work on in my case: what are all of the components of the blob that need to get done? I started listing them. Once I got done listing them, I put each of the items into groups. Let’s say your work is to build out a Windows 10 global package and all that goes with it (I did this 3-years ago). Well, you have to set up some servers. You have to decide what software will be included in the base package for everyone (e.g., Microsoft Office). You have to decide encryption method, what web sites people can visit, what devices they can use, what base rights they will have and…the list goes on quite a long while.

The important part is get the list out of your head and into paper or pixels. Then categorize the components in the list. It came out like this: base infrastructure, hardware, security, administration, and two more.

With that, you can now talk to what needs doing by category. And what each of the components that need doing in each category. Then tasks that need doing for each of the components. Now all of a sudden you’ve broken the blob. It’s still a ton of work — but at least you know what the work is that needs doing! That’s important.

Work uninterrupted for hours at a time to complete the important thing.

In Deep Work, the case is made that one needs to work — uninterrupted — for several hours to get to the level of thinking and analysis necessary to complete important tasks.

I won’t go into all of the reasons disruptions of any sort — drive by’s to your cube, interruptions on Skype/Slack/Teams, going back to check your email, checking your phone — all of it breaks your ability to concentrate and complete tasks.

I also don’t need the research: from my experience, it is entirely true.

Once I identified an important piece to get done — breaking down the blob in the example above — I went someplace else besides my cube. I have few notifications in the first place — how do people stand it when Outlook slides in the latest email breaking their concentration??? — but I turn them all off. I quit Skype, Teams, close my email…zip. And I go to the other building if I’m in the office or work from home. Anywhere where I won’t get drive-by’s and electronically I look like I’m off line.

Hard to do when everything is swirling around you. But I’ll tell you, three hours of uninterrupted work time on one important thing to get it to completion is priceless.

Oh. AND you get this great feeling of accomplishment because — finally!! — something you knew was important got done. Plus, the important thing is undoubtedly also proactive! Win win, so the saying goes…

Process emails — don’t read them and leave them

I am sooo guilty of this. Especially when you are overwhelmed, your tendency is to quick check your email to see if something (like a crisis) has come to visit your inbox. At one point, I was getting over 150 emails a day and it was incredibly easy to check email once an hour…quick read 15 emails and…leave them as read in your inbox. That means you need to process your email again…decide what to do with the information in the email again and then actually do something with it.

I ended up with close to 1000 unread emails in my inbox. Each of those emails represented the potential to blow up in my face because inside them — even though I quickly read them — were deadlines, unrecorded tasks, and requests for support. Let them go long enough and, yes, they will blow up hurting your business reputation.

The only way I can handle this is to consciously say to myself that I am “processing email.” Not answering it, not getting emotional about it, but just processing it. Is there an action here I need to take? No — then delete it. Yes? Put it as a task in my task management system. Might need this? Put the email in my reference area. Then, when done processing your email, go to your task management system and start working what needs doing.

This is more complicated than the above (e.g., you need to correctly write a task out so that when you go to your system, you can immediately look at the task and know what needs doing), but the idea is to get the email, meeting notes, Slack, Skype message out of that inbox and put it into a central task system.

Have a good task management system

I’m a big proponent of task management systems. I know that because I change how I manage my tasks like the seasons change during the year. I change tools all the time. I mostly follow Getting Things Done, but I also like Free to Focus, different ways of “moving the needle” and changing perspectives. During my overwhelm period what I determined was this: I had a zero effective task management system.

And guess what? I’m still not happy with my system.

But the intent of a good task management system, regardless if you follow some methodology, is get all of your tasks out of all of your inboxes — email, Slack, Teams, meeting notes, instant messages, hallway conversations — and get them into a central place so you can look at your tasks and then start doing them.

In theory: see the email, determine your task if you have one, create the task in your task management system (and move the email to the task so you can respond via email back) and then delete or archive the email from your inbox. Email stays down, tasks are centralized, fewer places to start working from. Rinse and repeat from your other inputs.

I still react way too often to the email/Team/meeting stuff without working exclusively from my task list. I need to get there.

Get rid of many tasks

The other problem for those of us who follow a productivity methodology — we have too many tasks. Task management tools are exceptionally good at capturing something (or, if you’re good, a real, actionable task) and storing it forever.

My 150 emails a day? If I diligently went through those emails and created tasks I could do from them, I could easily add 25-tasks to my task management system. That’s after doing something else with the other 125 emails, such as deleting them or putting them in some reference area. In a five day week — 125 new tasks.

No one can do 125 tasks in a week. Or 250 in two weeks. It’s not possible, I don’t care how good you are.

So don’t agree to do so many tasks. Boundaries are good things. Forcing priorities is a good thing.

Email, Slack, instant messaging and all those other inputs essentially allows anyone on the planet (in my case) to add their priorities to my to-do list whether I want it or not. It becomes someone else’s delegation list that you are supposed to now do — despite your performance goals, regardless of your life balance, ignoring your manager’s needs or your manager ignoring your needs.

Boundaries. It’s a concept. It’s hard. But get rid of enough tasks by not taking them on so you have something manageable to work for you.

Organize your work — file system, SharePoint, Tasks, reference material

You do this for one big reason: You can find stuff faster. Easier.

Take a look at how long it takes you to find something when you’re not set up right between tasks, your file system, and your reference material. It is creating resistance every hour of every day.

I even consider this one of my “important” proactive things to get done. At a certain point on a project, you just need to stop, look at how the project material is organized, and change it to fit the project and the way it is going now.

This is NOT organizing your work to organize your work to organize your work.

This is understanding you are meeting resistance to finding things and it is causing stress and needs to be remediated.

Figure out how to status or report your work

The purpose of this: being able to report your progress to yourself, your manager, and your stakeholders. If you can’t tell how you are making progress on the work, how is anyone else going to be able to figure it out? Answer: they won’t.

Plus, you’ll stay overwhelmed because you can’t even see you’re in a tunnel, much less seeing a light at the end of one.

What activities will you track? What numbers will you use to show progress? What categories will you report?

Figure that feedback loop out for yourself and you’ll feel progress when you track it. It’s even one of those “important” tasks to do.

Overwhelm is tough — but you can overcome it

This is hard, but hopefully some of these techniques can help you face the blob, the work, the unrelenting email and help you organize it, proactively solve problems along the way, and gradually beat down the overwhelm into something you can manage.

How have you handled overwhelm?

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Cube Rules Commentary

What Career Freedom Really Means

In the United States today, it is our Independence Day, a holiday celebrating the independence from England. You'll hear a lot of talk today about independence and freedom; how we broke away from the tyranny of England's King.

Today, there is a different type of "tyranny" - the tyranny of having to work for corporations. Of course, there a millions of businesses that are wonderful to work for, but large, global organizations can easily be viewed as very powerful and the people working for them in cubicles...not so much.

Of course, to be free of that kind of tyranny, the cubicle worker needs to be rich. Run their own business. Inherit millions.

And you know the vast majority of us can't do that. We need the job, the income, the benefits, whatever. To casually strike out on our own is not something most of us can do -- not even Cubicle Warriors.

To a large degree, however, we can be free in the corporate world.

I mean REALLY free. Not bullshit free. Not “Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose” free.

Many people think job security is the way to be free -- have the job security and your worries go away. Even though we intellectually know there is no job security, when we think we have it, we think we are as free as can be in corporate land.

Job security isn't the answer, though we could talk about that a long time. 

Instead, I'd contend that employment security is how to be free with your career. 

To me, employment security means these five principles:

1.

You have the right job skills

Job skills are the currency of employment -- have the right job skills and you can prove you can do the job. Don't have the right skills? You shut yourself out of the job.

2.

You have good Job performance

Hiring managers want people to help them reach their business goals and poor performing people on the job are not attractive to them. If you have the right job skills and you have good job performance, opportunities will open for you.

3.

You have a robust business network

With the right kind of business network, you are supporting others and others are supporting you in your career. When it comes time to land a new job, your business network is the first place to be looking for work.

4.

You have Job Search Skills

Building a resume, performing phone interviews, video interviews, group interviews, serial interviews, face-to-face interviews and negotiations over job offers is not something one does everyday -- and it shows. 


Building these skills is a critical differentiator in the marketplace of jobs -- you can stand heads and shoulders above others -- and get the offer.

5.

You are financially secure

What do I mean by financially secure? My benchmark is one-year's take home pay in the bank. Minimally, three months take home pay in the bank.


Why is this important? If you suffer a job loss, it keeps desperation at bay. Desperation can be felt across the interview table in a heartbeat. No hiring manager wants to hire someone desperate to have a job. 


Knowing your bills can be paid is a difference maker.

I call these principles the Employment Security Hierarchy.

Career freedom requires engagement, work, persistence, and presence. In many ways, freedom brings with it a higher level of responsibility, both to yourself and to your family.

Look: all jobs end. It is only a matter of time. Often, we can be proactive in finding a new job, knowing bad things are coming. Sometimes, bad things just happen that we don't see. 

Regardless, if you have executed these principles, you'll find a job and usually find it faster than most people.

Companies can walk us out the door anytime they deem necessary. Following these principles, you'll still retain your employability and your power over corporations.

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Management styles interview question
Job Search

You ask questions in an interview. Nice. Here are the ones you should be asking.

At some point, after you've been asked all those interview questions, you finally get this question: "What questions do you have for me?"

Unfortunately, a lot of people ask some basic questions:

  • Tell me a little more about the position (open ended, but for what purpose?)
  • Tell me about the benefits of the company (please don't ask this; it is for when the offer is made.
  • The recruiter was a little vague about the position -- what program is this with? (a needed question, but still not the right focus)

When you get your chance to ask questions, make sure your questions help you.

Interviews are two-way streets. At least they should be. When you get your chance to ask the questions, you should try and find out a few things for you:

  • Is this job the right fit for your talents?
  • Is the manager the right fit for the way you work?
  • Is the corporate culture one that fits your needs?
  • How much chaos are you walking into?
  • What will your unique contribution be to the team?

To get to those answers, you need to change the questions you ask during the interview. Without changing the questions, you'll walk away -- no matter how well the interview went -- still wondering whether the position is the right one for you.

What are some questions you should be asking?

?

?"Preparing job interview questions to ask the interviewer is just as important as preparing to answer the questions they'll ask you. Take your time and be thoughtful with your answers and questions. Use good judgment as to how many interview questions to ask, as well. If time feels like it's flying by and the interviewer is engaged in your discussion, then keep asking questions until you feel it's time to stop. It's best to go in with at least three to five questions to ask in an interview and take it from there."

- ?Ronda Suder @ Top Resumes -

1.

What challenges are your team facing and how will this role help with those challenges?


This will help you determine what problems need solving -- and allow you to show how you've solved similar problems in the past.

2.

How would you describe your leadership style?


T?his is to solicit from the manager how he or she approaches the team and their work. Does he or she micromanage (won't be admitted, but you can tell)? Give employees plenty of responsibility? All the answers here will help you match your own style of work.


3.

How do you approach ensuring everyone on your team is working on the right stuff?


You'll want a manager that figures out the strength of each team member and then assigning tasks to each person based on their strength. Otherwise...you're inviting failure because you can't work on what your good at doing.

4.

What is your belief about what makes people perform their best?


This is a particularly good question to determine what the manager believes about how people are motivated to do the work. It should match the way you are motivated to do the work for the best fit.



5.

How do you communicate with the team, as a team and with individuals on the team?


Th?is helps lay out the the ongoing communications between the manager and the team. Team meetings? Individual one-on-one's? Email communications? Nothing organized (you'd be surprised at how often that happens...)? You want to ensure that the communications style is something you're willing to work with.

6.

What would you say your teams biggest strengths and weaknesses are?


T?his gets to the team. The answers here can tell you how you could best fit in with the team with your skills -- especially if your strengths counteract one or more of the team's weaknesses.


The questions you ask in a job interview make a big difference in how you see the work

I hope you can see that these questions are far more substantial than how much vacation time is offered. Notice how these questions enable you to get a much better picture of how the team is structured and how the manager operates.

Plus, all of these questions provide a good opportunity to follow-up with the manager based on the answers. This becomes more of a conversation with the manager about how he or she works with the team...and ultimately you.

Of the ~30 interviews I've conducted over the last year and a half, no one has asked these kinds of questions about either myself or the managers. Let me tell you, these types of questions would have significantly improved their chances of an offer. Because it shows a person wanting to understand how the job would be right - for them.

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Job Search

All jobs end. Here is how to tell it is coming.

A career principle of mine: All jobs end. All jobs. The only question is when. The only other question is how to tell.

I learned this from an excellent manager of mine quite some time ago. He didn't have a questionaire or something (I do), but he was insistent that all jobs end.

There are reasons:

  • Managers change and their approach to the jobs they have change -- and you may not fit.
  • The company's direction may change and if the change doesn't include your department, you'll be gone.
  • A company's finances may change. You may be fine one year and having austerity...and job layoffs...the next.

The important point here is that you must rationally, consistently, read the tea leaves of what is happening with your department and your company so that you can see the changes coming.

An example

In one of the former companies I worked for, they hired a new CIO. If you did a little of the Google machine, you'd see that what her past history was in other companies was that she initiated outsourcing of IT functions.

She'd keep the "core" IT functions and evaluate the rest. 

Here's the thing: we'd never outsourced anything before in our IT department.

If you'd have done a minimal amount of looking at her background, you'd see that...yup...her job was to start outsourcing the IT functions that were not "core."

At this point, if you were a Cubicle Warrior and were working in the IT department, you'd be giving your department a hard look to determine if it was a "core" function in IT. If it wasn't, you'd be looking for a new job.

Much better to find a job when you have one than wait to get laid off. 

Here's how this works

Here's what you do: you figure out, based on your rationale analysis, how long you think your job will last. Then you back up the time frame to account for how long you think it will take you -- conservatively -- to find a new position. 

You set some criteria that tells you the job will be okay or will require you to look for work.

For example, when one of my previous employers was bought out and my workload dropped to near nothing, I said if the workload doesn't improve in three months, I would start looking because I wouldn't have a job in six months.

Then, when that time comes to start looking for a new position and nothing has changed (or gotten worse!), you start looking for a new job.

If you think it takes you three months to find and start a new job and you think your job could end in June, you start looking for a new job in March.

What's the worst that can happen by starting to look for a new job? Not much.

You get to see what is going on in the market. You get to practice your interviewing skills. You see what works and what doesn't on your resume.

Oh. You also might get an offer worthy of acceptance.

The point is this: we sell our job skills to hiring managers and by consistently looking at our situation, we are proactively managing our income, job satisfaction, and protecting our family. Most pundits call this "career management." I call it protecting what we love.

Proactively. Not waiting for the hammer to fall and not expecting it because you didn't see the signs.

Have you ever been surprised by a job layoff? What did you miss that you didn't see it? Leave a note in the comments below.

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Management styles interview question
Job Search

In the job interview, she whined about her current job. That cost her the new job.

One of the consistent pieces of job interview advice is to not speak badly about your current job – especially if you go into a victim mentality, or, for that matter, your horrible manager. It is a truism. I believe it is true as well. What few pundits do, however, is talk about why speaking poorly about your current job or manager is such a bad thing in an interview.

I had recently moved to a different company and was interviewing candidates to work in the department. One of the people that applied also worked with me at my former employer. I knew her work ethic. I knew her results. You would think this would be a slam-dunk interview and hire. I’m sure she did.

I didn’t hire her.

The reason is she consistently bashed my former employer (her employer) and management. Most every question I asked eventually turned back to the employer and how bad of a place it was to work there.

You know what? I agreed with what she said. She accurately described the working conditions, the culture and the management team there.

And I still didn’t hire her.

At the time I was interviewing her, I went through this transformation about hiring her. I started off hoping to hire her. Then that moved to a neutral place about hiring her. Then, as the negative answers continued, my whole opinion went to not hiring her. Almost to the point of “no way” am I hiring her.

As I was going through that process, I noticed my feelings as I went through the interview. It was like this…

Understandable tolerance in the job interview for a few bad stories since I left

Hey, I worked with her. A couple stories about how bad things are at the old place — or how it has gotten worse — was, to me understandable. It’s not like I was interviewing someone I didn’t know. You give the person some room just to catch up on what is happening.

This was okay.

Then the job interview questions started getting answered with how bad the place was

This raised the radar – a lot. It’s one thing to share some stories in a quick update on what is happening at my old place. It’s quite another to answer interview questions bashing the old place as answers.

Here’s why: I’m not hiring her to take her away from the old place; I’m hiring someone that I think can help me reach my business goals.

Obsessing over the old place doesn’t tell me how she can help reach my business goals. She offered no examples of how her work at the old place could translate into helping me at the new place.

Finally, the answers just turned me off

After a while, when the answers are all about the old employer rather than the opportunity you are interviewing for, I just started tuning her out.

It’s not just the negative stories. It’s not just that she’s not showing how she can help my business objectives.

It finally gets to this: “This person has such a bad attitude, she could ruin what we have here.”

Why would you hire someone who has that risk? Answer: you don’t.

For me, I viewed it as saving myself a possible huge headache. For her, it was a great opportunity that was missed.

It wasn’t a satisfactory outcome for either of us.

Work through the answers you need to provide in the job interview

That interview has stuck with me until this day. You know when it happened? About 1984. A way long time ago.

It was a big lesson for me: I’m very careful about how I talk about my current employers, managers and ex-managers in a job interview. Yes, I may hate the situation I’m in (and, trust me, I’ve been in a few situations I’ve really hated…), but I’ve always had to divorce myself from that and focus on the opportunity sitting across the table and the person asking the interview questions.

I’m sure she was angry at her company — and I’d say justifiably so as I knew the situation as well. I’m sure she was depressed about the work. I’m sure, somewhere, she wanted revenge for working there — the “take this job and shove it” approach to leaving.

It’s not easy to forego all that, get into a zen moment for an interview, and answer the interview questions in a way that helps you explain how you can help the hiring manager and how you can learn about the new place to see if it is a good fit.

It’s not easy. But it is what Cubicle Warriors do.

Have you ever hated your company and overcame all that for job interviews? What was it like? Let me know in the comments.

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Job Search

Many candidates don’t answer the job interview question. Here’s why that’s a problem.

Here's a situation I've faced when conducting job interview way more often than I should: I ask a question and the question is never answered.

After listening to an answer, I ask, "What role did you play in achieving those results?" Straightforward enough. Here's what I get for answers:

  • What we did was analyze...
  • There were two ways we went about...
  • What the project did was to...

The person I'm interviewing, apparently, didn't do anything to achieve the results. Only the plural "we" or "the project."

Since this happens so often (why does this happen so often??), I try again with a different approach.

"What documents did you produce that shows your results for this solution?"

That's a bit generic, on purpose so that I can publish it here. You get the idea though -- for what we're talking about during the job interview, what did you document for the results?

The answers that come back quite often don't answer the question again. I get another whole series of "we", "the team", "the effort". 

One time, I asked a job candidate what he did to produce a set of project requirements. "The team interviewed business stakeholders and produced a set of requirements for the project" -- a quick summary of a 2-minute response.

Then I asked this job candidate who he interviewed and to give me one of the requirements he produced that went into the document. "The team did the interviews and I...hmmm...I...uh...I can't remember from that project a good example of a requirement I did." 

Well, that doesn't come across real well now, does it?

Then I asked him how to construct a good requirement. A minute of tap dancing.

Hopefully you can see this particular job candidate was in trouble for getting hired when he said the team interviewed business stakeholders. Then completely lost the job when he couldn't provide an example of a requirement he provided from the team asking stakeholders questions.

Not answering a job interview question significantly hurts your ability to get the job.

The Job Candidate didn't listen to the question

This is the first problem: not listening to the question. Let's say this person gets hired and the hiring manager now tasks this person with doing something. How much faith can you have in the person hearing the task correctly? Maybe...maybe not.

If you were the hiring manager and wanted this person to help with your business goals, why would you want a person who doesn't listen on your team?

“Founder Ramkumar Balaraman memorably calls this the "Sarah Palin" problem. "Poor language skills aren't a deal breaker, depending on the role. Nor is being introverted or reserved," he writes, "but poor listening skills, i.e., repeatedly misunderstanding questions (whether intentional or not), are a red flag.”

The Job Candidate didn't clarify the question

There are lots of interview questions that can have multiple tracks for an answer. The question could be about asking this or it could be that. 

If you as the job candidate don't clarify which way the question is going, you'll often end up answering the wrong track. Good interviewers will back track on this and say that they didn't mean that part, but this other part and let the candidate answer the question going down the right track.

But not always. An interviewer, often based on how the previous questions have gone and what they are currently thinking about hiring the candidate, could just as easily use this wayward answer as yet another nail in the job candidate's interview coffin.

The Job Candidate may have an agenda

Candidates want the job, of course. But if the candidate goes into an interview thinking he or she needs to get these "X" points across, the points getting across could very well not answer the question. Politicians do this all the time...start to answer the question and then get to the talking points regardless of the question.

You don't want to do that in a job interview.

The thing is, not answering the interviewer's question sets you up to lose. The interviewer -- even if a poorly constructed question is asked -- assumes that he or she is clear about what is being asked. Not answering the question immediately causes the interviewer to question hiring you for all the reasons above.

After all, would you want to entrust the person across from you to do great work when that person can't even answer the question you're asking?

Have you ever missed out on a job because you missed the intent of an interview question? Let me know in the comments below.

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One on one coaching
Job Search

Why networking in your own company is the best way to find a job

You’re looking at the writing on the wall: your job is about to end. Mostly because the job is no longer sustainable for you. And you know that sooner or later, your job performance will reflect that the job is no longer interesting to you…

Whether it is boredom, politics, an impending layoff, or just a bad boss, you know it is time to leave. What’s the first thing most people do? (Outside of all the first steps you should do…).

You start looking for a job somewhere else. Outside your company. New place, fresh start, putting this place in the past.

If you’re in a medium to large company though, I’d look someplace else first: something in your own company, outside your department.

There are a lot of advantages to staying with your current company:

  • You keep your seniority. Mostly important for vacation time…you don’t have to start vacation counts over someplace else. I worked for a long time at AT&T and when I left, I had six weeks vacation and the company holidays. I’ve never had more then three weeks a year since and I really, seriously, miss the extra vacation time.
  • You keep the devil you know versus learning the one you don’t. There is a big advantage in knowing the culture, the norms, and the politics in your current company. It helps you navigate, perform well and know what is going on.
  • You keep your (large, usually) business network in place. Once you leave your current employer, it’s easy to let all those contacts slip away.

Sure, there are advantages. But why is your own company the better place to find a job?

The easiest way to do informational interviews is in your own company

We’re told we should do informational interviews with people in other companies. It helps understand the company and what different jobs are like. If you know someone, great, but if you don’t, getting an informational interview is tough.

In your own company, though, you can email or call up any manager in the company and tell them you’d like to learn more about what that department does — especially if that department is dependent on yours for some of their work — and you’re likely to be greeted with open arms. After all, you’re learning more about your own company!

Movement inside your own company is easier then a 100% break with your company

Many companies will try and retain good employees. If you do a good job, being able to move between departments is a viable way to find a different job.

Leaving the company is a harsher break. Think about people who have left your company versus those that moved to a different department within the company. There is a certain finality of leaving the company. Your contacts tend to drop away. Even if you were close at work, when that person leaves it is difficult to maintain the close work relationship you had with that person. If you never really had a social relationship with that person, it’s tough to create one.

All of these factors mean it is easier to maintain your business network relationships when you stay with your company.

Your work reputation is best (or worst!) inside your company

If you have a great work reputation inside your company, that reputation will open doors in other departments. Managers want people that will help them meet their business goals and if your reputation is about doing just that, managers will be open to bringing you on to their work group.

I had a conversation with a manager who I had worked with in a different position before…he was describing a new position that was opening up and he was having difficulty figuring out who should fill the role. After he described the position to me, I said, “How about me?”. He didn’t know I was looking for a job, but I gave him my reasons and two months later, I was working in a new position in a new department.

Outside your company, no one knows your work reputation, unless there are people in your community who have worked with you before. But inside your company, your reputation is known. You can use that to your advantage.

There are caveats…

Let’s be clear…there are reasons to leave your company: it was bought out and your job is in jeopardy, your manager is awful and will submarine anything you do to try and move, your position is likely to be outsourced, and on and on.

But if you’re in a relatively stable company and you feel the need to move on to something different, give your company a go. It may take the same time to find a different position as it would looking elsewhere. There will be bumps along the way, just like looking outside the company.

But if you’re successful at a move inside your company, there are a lot of advantages that stay with you.

Have you ever moved inside your company? How did it go?

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Job Search

Why a video job interview is more difficult than a face to face interview

One of the reasons video job interviews are compelling is because you can see each other on the screen even though you aren’t in the same room. After all, a video interview is just like a face to face interview, right?

Ummmm...not really. There are significant differences. Differences that can cause you to lose the job.

Let’s take a look.


Problem 1: Your home is full of distractions

Many, if not most, video interviews are done by you in your home. Depending on where you do your work from home, you could have a fabulous setup or a corner somewhere where you do your work.


Think about all those calls you've been on where the person on the call is working at home and all the different things you see and hear -- babies, dogs, cats, kids -- all normal things in a household and, I would say, mostly forgivable when working from home. 


For an interview? Not so good. The people you've worked with quite a while are usually forgiving. But an interview is a one-time shot with people you have not spoken with before. First impressions really do matter.


Even if you have none of the living distractions, what the camera sees that you've long ago ignored becomes a distraction for the people interviewing you. I've interviewed candidates who's camera revealed a large, mostly white living room -- walls couches, chairs, carpet. Was it distracting? No, but I'm sure I made some unconscious assumptions about that person and those impact the interview. You can't help it. The camera sees it.

The Solution:

Obviously, you need to minimize all the possible interruptions you could get during the interview. Close doors. Get the kids out of the house if you can.


Also take a hard look at what the camera sees besides you. Do you have a cactus growing out of your head because of the picture behind you? Are all of your kids (or dogs!) toys laying on the floor behind you? Have you dropped a bunch of clothes on top of the chair that shows up on the screen. I wouldn't want anyone to see the top of my desk right now...would you?


You may not have a choice as to where you take your interview call -- but minimize interruptions and make sure your camera background helps your cause.

Problem 2: Your lighting is poor

Another difference in a video interview is the lighting -- especially the lighting on your face. 


I did a video interview last week where the lighting was essentially grey. So it was dark. Then, compounding this, the candidate was from India and between the grey lighting and the dark skin, it was difficult to see his facial movement. Humans are wired for faces and when you can't tell what is happening with someone's face, you lose the benefit of the sudo face-to-face interview.


This can also happen when you have a bright background and the camera dims your face into a shadow, doing the same thing. 

The Solution:

See what the camera sees. And make adjustments.


I have lamps that swing and where I can adjust the angle of the light. Depending on the time of day and cloudy/sunny weather, I can move the lamps and change the angle of the light to have the camera see my face. 

Problem 3: You disrespect the camera

When you're in a conference room doing a face-to-face interview, there is just you. You don't have to be worried about the space you use with yourself, your gestures, or your movements.


But in a video interview, there is a frame around that picture of you with boundaries that need respect. 


You have hands that jump in and out of the picture. That's called "jazz hands."


If your head moves around a lot, there are cameras that will follow your movement -- making your background sway back and forth across the screen at the other end.


And when you are not looking into that small light that represents the camera, people on the other end wonder what you are looking at over there. Visual people tend to look up and to one direction; in a camera frame it is like you are seeing something up there that the people interviewing you cannot see. 

The Solution: Fall in love with the camera

Become one with the camera. And keep your hands to yourself.


This is not easy. If you think about a reporter, the reporter is always looking at the person being interviewed and that person is looking at the reporter. They are not looking at the camera being held by someone else.


But television anchors are. All the time. The difference? They have a teleprompter going and they are reading from a script.


You really have to practice looking at the camera. Do you need to look at the camera all the time? No, but 90% of the time would be a good guideline. And a 100% of the time when the people interviewing you are talking. 

Problem 4: Your audio is poor

The interview is about your words and your non-verbal queues. The lighting and loving the camera make the biggest impacts on the non-verbal communications, but your audio makes the difference with your words. 


Audio that isn't sharp, has a bunch of echo in it, has your breathing go into the mic, and is too quiet -- or too loud -- all make it difficult to get your point across. 

The Solution: Test your audio for best response

The first thing is if there is a decent amount of echo in our interview place, it's usually because of empty walls. Think of an empty conference room. You can't necessarily hang blankets outside of camera range, but temporarily doing something like that would help a lot. You need something to break up the sound to reduce the echo.


For your microphone, you must record your voice to see how it sounds. Expensive headsets and microphones are not necessarily the answer, either. 


I've had $200 headsets that were crap on audio. What's worked best for me? Headsets designed for Skype. Surprisingly, Apple's AirPods. If you have a Mac, Rode's SmartLav+ is a rock star.


The key is to try what you have and record yourself so you can hear what sounds best. That has to be done before the interview, obviously. You can't be testing headsets a half hour before going live...

Face-to-face interviews are a shared experience. If the interview is in a crappy room with a lot of echo and poor lighting, you are all sharing in the same experience.

But video interviews mean you are not sharing the same experience. There are technology, distractions, and picture frames that need respect. All of those things can derail your interview impact. And cost you the job.

How about you? Have you done video job interviews? What went well with them? What were the problems you saw? Leave a comment and let us know.

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Job Search

Why job search skills are so crucial to landing a job

There are job skills. And then there are job search skills. They are not the same. A big part of why many people have such a difficult time landing a job is because they have poor job search skills.

And why is that? Usually it is because we don’t focus on our job search skills until we need to go find a job. Then we discover that our search skills are rusty at best. At worst, very outdated. After all, how many of you have needed to do a video job interview in your career?

We’re rusty. We haven’t practiced our interview questions. Consequently, we don’t have confidence going into an interview and usually come out of the interview knowing, deep inside, we didn’t do our best.

Most of us don’t even know what a good list of job search skills would look like. Until now. It’s not rocket science to create the list. But, like any job skill, you need to practice, maintain, and build upon your job search skills to remain effective.

What are the principle job search skills? Let’s take a look.

Ability to research companies or positions

Google is your friend, right?

But that’s limiting. Useful, but limiting.

How about looking at multiple sites to get a grip on your target company (you do have target companies where you want to work, right)?

How about going to LinkedIn and finding what the company is also putting out there. Along with people you may be connected to that work at that targeted company.

Going into 10-k filings to find out what’s up with the finances of the company?

If there are multiple divisions, what’s the division doing where you hope to land a job?

Now, not all of this will be used in the interviewing process. But it is meant to do two tasks well:

  • Find out if you have contacts in your target company so you can talk to them about working there
  • Have a great amount of context for the company walking into interviews so you have a better chance of understanding and answering the questions being asked of you.

That’s research.

Building a resume

I’ve been a hiring manager. I currently interview candidates and I am not the hiring manager. But I’m an awesome influencer…

I’ve seen hundreds of resumes. Hundreds. I’ve seen two that I would not have changed a thing. Two.

Resumes get you the interview. They don’t get you the job, but they do get you the interview.

If your resume halfway stands out from the millions of crappy resumes, your chances of getting an interview are significantly higher than all of your competition.

Resumes need to show that you can do the job and have the accomplishments to prove it.

How you build a resume is really a course that is worth taking. I’m building it. 🙂

Excellent phone interviews

Phone interviews are usually conducted by two types of people (or both in separate phone interviews):

  • A recruiter / HR type
  • Someone in the department doing screening for the hiring manager

These are different audiences. People who are interviewing don’t understand this. Consequently, they answer questions the same way – usually the way someone in the department, who knows the ins and outs of the position, would want the questions answered.

But, for example, HR folks don’t know all the ins and outs of the position. Answering with all the ins and outs puts all of your answers way over the head of the HR person, especially if it is a technical position. The HR folks are listening to your over-the-head answer and desperately trying to find out if what you are saying matches up to any job skill in the job description.

Usually, the answers don’t because the answers are for the wrong audience. And the candidate, that would be you, doesn’t move on.

And if you answer phone interview questions to the department person who knows the ins and outs of the work with what an HR person would need to hear, you’ll get thrown out because you don’t know how to do the job.

Wrong audience, wrong answers. Plus poor interview skills (see below).

Awesome video interview skills

Video interviews are much more like face to face interviews. And they have a whole set of new skills that can blow you out of the water if you don’t handle them right.

Let’s see…

  • Your technical ability to set up the meeting using the company’s preferred format. Skype for Business? Teams? Zoom? GoToMeeting? WebEx? All of them require similar, but different, options and your ability to navigate those options — and overcome difficulties is not easy. Execute this well, though, and your smooth-running meeting doesn’t have hiccups taking away from your awesome talent.
  • Your audio quality for the meeting. Audio quality makes a huge difference in video. If you’re hard to hear, or there is too much background noise (sorry — kids, dogs, spouse, etc.) it detracts from your message.
  • Your camera background. Microsoft Teams has a feature on video calls where you can blur the background. It’s great in that all of the focus is on you and not what is in the background. The background to your video gets evaluated…is there a couch? Bookcase? Blank wall? A mess with whatever background? It ALL gets evaluated in an interviewer’s mind, conscious or not.
  • Your movements within the video frame. Too much movement will often overwhelm your Internet bandwidth and your video ends up pixelated and your voice chopped. Your hand gestures jumping into and out of the video frame (jazz hands) is distracting and takes away from your message.
  • People forget they are live and don’t talk like they are in a face-to-face conversation.

Yeah, video is a trap unless you are well-versed in video conversations.

Face-to-face interview skills

Millions of pixels have been used to describe needed face-to-face interview skills. I won’t list them all here.

However, most people make mistake after mistake after mistake in how they conduct the interview. And they lose the job.

Committee interview skills

Committee interviews, where a group of people interview you or there are serial interviews by multiple people one right after the other, is another set of job search skills that need mastering.

Essentially, all of the face-to-face interview skills come into play here. Then, on top of that, you need to evaluate who each player interviewing you is, what role they play in the department, what role they play in your interview (influencer, significant influencer, if you convince this person the hiring manager will hire you person???).

You have to have a fast read on the room, on each person doing the interview and then focus your answers on what that person needs to understand about your work. Yes, more understanding the audience and getting your answers to that audience.

Finally, analyzing job offers

Just because you get a job offer, it doesn’t mean you should take it. I’ve negotiated job offers (and felt terrible doing it – why???). I’ve refused job offers. I’ve accepted them.

Oh, boy. Job offers are wonderful. And filled with risk. Yet, knowing how to stand up for yourself, understanding how the company is negotiating with you is a reflection on their culture, and how you navigate the acceptance is an important skill. Especially if you know you need to walk away. And why.

Not many people are Cubicle Warrior skilled when it comes to analyzing job offers.

Conclusion

If you’ve read this far — and thanks — I hope that you can see these are very different skills that need to be learned to do a successful job search by anyone aspiring to become a Cubicle Warrior.

The most interesting way I’ve seen someone hone and maintain job search skills is this: he set an objective to obtain one job offer per year while he was working at his company.

He did this to keep his resume up and then maintain his search and interviewing skills. He didn’t intend to leave his company because he was satisfied with the work, benefits, and the rest of the package.

I watched him get job offers year after year. He turned them all down for all good reasons.

Until he didn’t and he accepted an offer he couldn’t refuse. All because he wanted to practice his job search skills.

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Job Search

3 ways to know when it is time for a job search

You know those memos that come out from management announcing the next, coolest thing in organizational wonder? 

Or how somebody is leaving to "pursue other business interests" (fired) or "provided wonderful accomplishments" (left on their own)?

You either read those emails and thought nothing of it or read those emails and had your anxiety levels go up. Maybe a lot. And the thought crossed your mind that maybe you should start looking for another job.

Well, should you?

It's a big deal to look for another job. It takes a lot of time. It requires you to update your resume. Polish off your business network. Think about where you'd like to work. All stressful stuff and who needs it when all your normal drama is going on?

Look when your company is bought out

I've had my company bought out twice in my career. I left both times. The first time wasn't because of the purchase per se, but because of my new manager and the culture the company brought. 

The second time was strictly because of the purchase. There is a period in larger purchases where companies can't make material benefits changes (like one year) and I used that time to evaluate what was going to happen. 

That analysis was one thing -- health care benefits were going to drastically change for the worse -- but what tipped me over the edge was me watching all of these very good people I respected leave the company. 

The really good people leave first -- because they can since they have the job skills and accomplishments hiring managers want in their employees.

So I left. Even if your company is the one buying the other company, you need to look. Looking doesn't hurt. Getting laid off because you didn't look does.

Look when your department is reorganized

I have this unproven number saying: 3% unemployment rate and 75% corporate churn.

What it means is that even though the unemployment rate is low (as I write this), corporate churn continues on at its normal fast pace. Especially in medium to large companies, there is some grandiose reorganization announced all the time.

And reorganizations are the beginning of danger (and opportunity). 

The danger is the reorganization can leave you playing musical chairs and you're the one left standing. Unless you can almost immediately see how you can uniquely contribute to the newly organized department, the writing on the wall is significant.

The opportunity, of course, is the reorganization pulled you out of a bad situation -- you get to make a new start.

But more often, it is danger and worth looking.

Your manager is not in your corner

Your manager is your most important customer. Your manager is also the biggest advocate -- and threat -- to your career.

Managers have all sorts of power of your career that oftentimes are detrimental. I have a previous coworker who wasn't liked by a manager and when she left and a new manager came on, he was still ostracized for his work because the previous manager told the new manager he wasn't good at his job. 

And the previous manager was a contractor filling in the position while the search was going on. And the new manager wasn't smart enough to throw all that out the window and evaluate that person for herself.

It shows you the power of the manager's opinion of your work. 

And if you are not on the right side of the manager, you should look for a new position.

Do you know how easy it is to submarine someone's career with a manager?

I was on a business trip and eating a meal at the bar in the hotel (I lead a boring life of business travel). There was a conference going on there and two guys were at the bar talking about this dude, and not in a good way. And probably not in a malicious way, but I couldn't tell.

Then the manager of the dude they're talking about walks by these two and they call him over and have a serious discussion about the person who reports to this manager. And the case was made.

If the manager believed it (and it looked like he did), I just watched a person's job at this company get destroyed in about two minutes.

All outside the rarified corporate hierarchy. All done with the best of intentions. And the person they were talking about never knew from where the hurricane originated.

So, yeah. If your manager is no longer in your corner, you need to look for a new job while you can still show accomplishments to another potential hiring manager.

There is a season

A lot of my career has been about playing career defense. I like to preserve my income for what my family wants to do. I know what its like to not have that income twice now in my career.

I'm not saying you should automatically leave when one of these things happen. But I do think you should start a job search.

After all, you might get an offer much better than where you are working now and avoid the pain of a layoff.

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Job Search

What is an Application Tracking System – and why is it important?

If you've done any research into writing a resume, you'll soon come across the dreaded ATS -- Application Tracking System. It's that dastardly beast that will grab your resume and throw it into the digital trash bin if you don't feed it right and correctly.

It is the black box of resumes reviews -- machine driven resume views, the gathering of your data, the evaluation of your life, and then an almost instant decision about your worthiness. Oh, worthiness for your job. Not YOUR worthiness as a person. But it feels that way...

What is an Applicant Tracking System?

The simplest explanation of an ATS is that it is a program recruiters and human resources use to find good candidates for a position among the hundreds -- or thousands of applications for a job posting. 

Instead of looking at hundreds of resumes and trying to determine which resumes best fit the job posting, recruiters use the program to filter out resumes that don't fit the position with those that do fit the position. 

Why is an Applicant Tracking System Used?

An ATS essentially takes your resume and stores the elements of your resume (job skills, work experience, education, etc.) and stores it into a database. Once in a database, it becomes searchable by the recruiter to help that person find positions. 

Here are some of the ways it can be used to find your resume:

1.

Job title searches. Every company has multiple jobs they are hoping to fill. It makes sense to be able to search your resume database by job title. After all, you don't want to confuse a Janitor position with a Data Janitor III position.

2.

Job skill searches. Here, the job skills that your position requires can be filled by multiple job titles, so your intent here is to find the job skills that best match your position. Perhaps your job is for an Analyst position in IT that can be filled by a Systems Analyst, Infrastructure Analyst or Business Analyst...so you search by the job skills needed and not the job title.

3.

Certification searches. Your hiring manager is insistent on hiring only people who have specific certifications (I highly disagree with this...). But there you go. There are hiring managers out there who won't hire a Project Manager unless they have a PMP certification. Others with specific Microsoft certifications. A long list. Instead of searching by job title or job skills, search on a certification name.

And many others. You can see the flexibility an ATS system can provide a recruiter. Assuming its a good system...

Can you beat an ATS? 

No. But you can maximize your ability to get seen.

How do you maximize your ability to be seen?

1.

Use Industry Standard job titles. If your job is in banking or insurance, for example, VP titles get thrown around like (budget) candy. But recruiters aren't going to search for Vice President III. They will, however, search for Claims Manager. Or Business Operations Manager. Check the job description title you're interested in. Does your resume job title match that job title? If not, ATS will pass you by in a nanosecond.

2.

Use key words for your industry. Security Operations, Cyber Security, and Security Analysts all work in the security area, but none of those key words are the same. You don't need to put 5,000 key words in the resume, but where you do titles, department names, and accomplishments, use standard terms used in the industry (check your job description!).

3.

Consistently format your work experience and education. ATS systems notice the patterns of your resume. Consistently formatting all of the jobs you want on your resume -- name of company, industry standard job title, dates, bulleted accomplishments -- will help the poor ATS system find the important bits about your work.

Don't be afraid of the big bad ATS System

The underlying message here is three-fold:

1.

Write consistently

2.

Write for humans

3.

Follow your ways to be seen above

And you will.

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Job Search

3 key steps to start your job search

When you decide it is time to look for a new job — even if the new job is inside your current company, deciding what to do first can initially seem daunting. There is a lot to do, typically, because you haven’t looked for a job recently. Your job skills have changed, your accomplishments have changed; you’ve changed. Where to start?

The way I would approach getting ready for a job search starts with three critical key steps. Let’s take a look at each one.

Update your Resume

Now, everyone knows you need to update your resume before submitting for any jobs. What most people do, though, is just add in what they have done since the last time they updated their resume and then let it fly. That can work, but you’ll increase your chances of getting interviews that you want if you really stop and look at your entire resume and decide if what you have in the resume still makes sense.

Here are the areas to look at:

  • Your contact information, specifically your email address. You should ditch your unprofessional email address and consider having an email address just for career stuff.
  • Your job skills. What job skills are new to you and what ones should you remove (Microsoft Project 2003 doesn’t cut it any more…)
  • Your accomplishments. While adding to the list, it’s also important to cull out what you no longer want to be known for — the “curse of competency.” If you don’t want to be know for outsourcing jobs, seriously look at moving all references to that in your resume.
  • Your employment history. Is it time to remove your first job out of college from your resume that happened 15-years ago? Why, yes.

The reason I go for the resume first is that it is the singular document that you and only you own. Anything that is updated online (e.g., LinkedIn) is putting your career information on a platform you don’t own. Online companies — especially online companies that have their business model be your personal information you access for free — are notorious for changing their algorithm and your data along with it.

Save a copy of your current resume so you always have information in it (mine go back to 2010) in case you need it later. Start with your copied resume and make your edits from there.

Update your LinkedIn profile

Microsoft has grander plans for LinkedIn since they bought the platform. And since most of corporate is based on Microsoft — Office, Project, Server, SQL, and more — LinkedIn is a necessary component to your job search.

Objectively, lots of recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates. Companies place job openings and job descriptions on LinkedIn. To find and to be found, a good LinkedIn presence is a necessary tool for your job search. Here’s what to consider:

  • Your resume information. This is another reason why I started with the resume first. Much of the information that goes into LinkedIn comes from the resume. And, like the resume, should have additions and deletions to match your current desires for a job.
  • Your tag line. I’ve never been a fan of having that tag line be your job title. Joe Smith — Insurance Adjuster. And I really don’t like “Looking for new opportunities.” Instead, you should provide a tag line that embodies your best, targeted job skill. “Delivering global Cyber Security projects to keep companies safe.”
  • Your compelling story. Resumes require brevity; not in length, but in structure. You don’t really get to do a paragraph about your self in a resume; in LinkedIn, you can. Consider creating a 1-2 paragraph story about how you add value to meeting business objectives, specifically about doing so for the job type you are looking to land.

Review your business network

Resumes and LinkedIn profiles are tools you can use to point people to your skills and accomplishments. They help you get the interview, but they don’t help you find open positions. If you look at how jobs are found, 70-80% of all jobs are found through your business network. Once you find a job opening, then your resume and LinkedIn profile come into play.

Given the importance of your business network in finding a job, reviewing your contacts makes good sense.

  • Be clear on what job and/or company you’d like to target in your job search. This is required to see who in your network either works for the targeted companies, or allows you to ask your contacts if they know anyone who works for your targeted companies. This will lead you to others in your targets and, as a good aside, will also help you expand your business network.
  • Targeted company or not, try and have a discussion with people who are already working in the job you are targeting for yourself. Knowing what is important for their goals, reviews, and business objectives will help you later when you get interviews.
  • Determine specifically what you’ll ask people in your business network. People want to help, more often than not. But you saying something like, “I’m looking for a job — does your company have any openings?” is guaranteed to produce zero leads for you. Determine the specific help you’d like from each contact so that there is a better chance the person will be able to help.

A job search isn’t something you just go into without any preparation. These 3 key areas shouldn’t take you more than about 8-hours to do (unless it has been a really long time since you did a job search – in which case, it is really important you do these preparations). Those 8-hours will save you a time and will help focus your efforts at finding the right job for you.

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Dig up your own mud
Job Performance

Why digging up your own mud is a winning career strategy

If you were an awesome Cubicle Warrior,  you would do something called “digging up your own mud.” A sexy term, right?

What it means is that you want to coldly evaluate your own performance and determine in which areas you could improve. And, once you determine which areas you could improve, you put a plan in place to help improve those areas.

There are other names for this, of course — but not as sexy!

For example, “lessons learned” is another label for taking what you have done and determined what could have been better.

Altruistically, these make sense. It allows you to look at where you can improve, figure out how, and then go ahead and make those adjustments and improve.

Yes, you want to improve and this is a good way to do so.

You see, if you dig up your own mud, two things happen:

  1. You have found a problem and you start to fix it so that it never hits the management radar as a problem. In other words, you’re being truly proactive. And…
  2. If it is discovered as a problem by management, you can already say that, yes, it is a problem we discovered and here are the x number of things were doing about it to get it fixed.

That is the proactive way to “defend your realm.” Yes, there is a problem, we’ve already discovered it, and here is what we are doing to fix it. It shows you are on top of your area.

But, that is not why you want to dig up your own mud.

More interesting is that you can “dig up your own mud” as a way to evaluate your management. To test them to see if they really like to manage or if they are in it just so they look good.

Let’s say you are tasked to do some analysis and discover that the common wisdom of X isn’t that, but Y. And Y isn’t as complimentary to management — it won’t make them look as good — as they thought it might be.

You present your results.

Then, one of two things happens:

  1. After questioning your methods and data, managers go “holy crap! I’m glad you found this so we can now fix it!”. And then you invoke Number 2 above and acknowledge there is a problem, you found it and are now in the process of fixing it showing your group is on top of their business. Or…
  2. Your management ignores your findings, or says it isn’t a problem, or asks you to not bring it up. In this case, your management team is doing a variation of “hear no evil, see no evil” and all of that.

How often does your management group fall into group #2? Usually, unfortunately, way too often. When you see that type of response, it tells you that your management is not open to facts and how to fix them, but more interested in ensuring that problems are not discovered or, at least, not acted on.

And when the bad things are discovered by some other layer of management…there is no answer. Or, perhaps, you get thrown under the bus because it was your area and you didn’t do anything to find or fix the problem. Except you did, and management didn’t want to hear about it.

Dig up some mud. Find out how much your management wants to hear about the mud you find…

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Job Layoff
Job Search

My friend got laid off — from his dream job

Well, that was a surprise.

My friend -- who only early this year took a position that he considered his dream job -- got laid off. Got called into his manager's office and, in what is becoming scripted for managers, was told his final day would be November 30th (I found out about the layoff recently).

The thing is, good people invest themselves in their work. We invest in it because we believe that not only will it help us through gaining new skills, new engagements, better things to put on the resume -- but also because good work gives us a sense of accomplishment. It gives us fulfillment. Stuff that keeps us moving forward in our journey.

Oh. And, by the way, it usually helps a company meet its business goals as well.

And companies WANT us to be invested in the work because almost every pundit out there will tell you employee engagement is critical to the success of the company.

Until it isn't.

Then management lays you off because their direction changed. Or management decided what you were working on wasn't a core competency. Or that the profitability wasn't high enough, so the work ends. 

Very self-centered, that company stuff. Not often much about "the employee is our most important asset" that gets touted in company literature. Not oriented to the employee engagement requirement because the company only needs your engagement when it wants it. 

The executives have their contracts and golden parachutes when the company moves on, but you're lucky if you get a severance leaving you with your family's financial security hanging in the balance.

But the kicker is our disillusionment of being invested in the plan, the goal, the work and then having it taken away. For good workers, this has a particularly bad impact on our egos and self worth. 

That's what happened to my friend. It doesn't matter your engagement along with your accomplishments -- or how to use that engagement and skills in some other capacity within the company. It's not about your investment; just the company's investment it no longer wants to make.

It's tough to recover from that disillusionment that comes from investing in yourself with your work only to discover how easily it all can slip away.

How a layoff changes your outlook

Have that threat of a layoff hanging over your head - or having been laid off -- and you start to treat things a bit differently with your career. Cubicle Warriors treat companies differently for this very reason. Here are some of the things Cubicle Warriors do...

Figure out how long a job will last

Here is truth: every job ends. It is just a matter of when.

There's an intersection that continually changes between how long you think a job will last and how long it will take for you to find your next position. In the current job environment, maybe not so long. In a recession...quite a bit longer.

But that intersection is always out there and you need to be aware of where that intersection happens. 

In my friends case, things were good as far as the eye could see. Then his manager changed. Then the strategy changed.

And then he was out the door.

Any time new upper level management changes, your manager changes, your company sells or buys something is time to re-evaluate how long you think your job will last. 

When that time hits the time it takes to find another job, you go find another job.

Watch what the company does, not just says

Every management announcement is heralded as something that will either help customers (not likely; more like more profit - which is fine, by the way) or make the company more efficient. That's what they say. What they do is often quite different.

I worked in a company that brought on a new CIO - experienced, well respected, heralded as a fine choice to improve IT's efficiency. Doing a little Google research revealed that in every company she worked at as a CIO, she outsourced a good chunk of the IT business. 

And our company had never outsourced anything. 

What do you think actually happened? Yeah. A lot of IT got outsourced. A lot of people got laid off in the name of efficiency.

Use your work to learn new job skills for your next employer

Here's a change in your orientation of your work: use your job to obtain the needed job skills for your next job. Now, that job could be at your current company if your company actually believes in the assets employees bring to the table. 

More likely, though, is to learn job skills and have accomplishments in your work that other hiring managers want to have to help them achieve their business goals. 

I once had an outstanding manager who said in order to be promoted, you needed to be doing the work in the promoted position -- no Peter Principle here; you already could do the work.

One of my readers asked me what they should do because they were doing the work of the promotion, but the company wouldn't give the title or the pay for the work.

My answer was simple: set an internal time for the company to recognize the work and do the promotion. If that didn't happen in that time frame, start applying for new positions -- the promotion position -- in other companies.

If you're doing the work, you have a perfect reason for leaving -- I'm doing the work of the promoted position, but management won't promote me. Your resume will show all the accomplishments you have doing the work of the promoted position so there is little risk in hiring you -- at a different company.

Have your company pay you to gain the skills another hiring manager will want to be on their team.

Hold back your engagement a tiny bit

All of these suggestions, you could argue, are all about you, the employee, and totally dismisses anything about the company. 

I would agree. Since I run this site, I'm probably a little more out there on the edge than most. After all, a company will lay you off in a New York minute if management thinks it will help them meet their business goals.

I’ve become highly cynical about Corporate America, for good reason. I look at corporate pronouncements with a detached, highly critical eye. I don’t buy into any direction the company provides, outside of what’s in it for me and recalculating my quarterly “how long will my job last” questionnaire.

It’s not team oriented at all, although I help my team. It’s highly selfish, even though I am not. My goal is to be highly employable, knowing job security doesn’t exist. You don’t get highly employable unless you are vigilant in how you handle your career and pay attention to what is happening at work. It has saved my bacon more than once.

Don’t know a way around that, though I wish I did. I wish I could believe what management tells me and I could invest freely in the work along with the company goals. But I can't. I've been burned way too many times wishing something different then the reality.

Keep some of that employee engagement stuff to yourself. Help yourself build job skills, watch what the company does, and consistently evaluate how long you think your job will last. 

Doing so will save your bacon too.

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Resume Tips

Great resume advice – that is really terrible

There is a lot of resume advice out there (including this site). The brutal truth is...a lot of that advice is not very good. If you follow that advice, you won't get the interview and wonder why that happens when you are following supposedly good advice.

So let's get rid of some resume myths and why you shouldn't do what those pundits say.

See more resume tips and my approach to building resumes. Check out my Resume Tips page.

Your resume should be a single page long

Even if you are just coming out of college, your resume should be more than one page long. And if you have any sort of time in your career, even two pages is too short.

Yet pundits keep pointing to having a single page resume.

Yes, the first page of your resume is vitally important -- but most pundits don't address this. Instead, they simply promote having a single page resume.

You can't possibly describe your accomplishments on the job, describe your job skills, and show how your job skills match the job description on a single page. Unless, of course, you like reading 3.5 typeset or something.

Should your resume be one page? An emphatic "no" -- the first page is important, but if you need more space, you should use it.

Write a custom resume for every job

You have to wonder how people do this -- unless they are writing a single page resume!

Writing resumes is hard; writing a new resume for every position you apply for is difficult and time consuming. You'll spend more time writing resumes than finding jobs.

The key to customizing every resume for every job isn't to rewrite your resume for each submission, but have a way to customize your resume that is easily done and doesn't take too much time.

The key to doing this is having the first page of your resume be a summary of your work and customizing that single first page only, not the entire resume.

Using key words to beat the Automated Tracking Systems (ATS)

This is a bit tricky as ATS systems will reject your resume in an Intel microsecond.

So the pundits give you advice that says to "select key words" to put in your resume:

Another key to passing the bot test is tailoring your resume to include some of the keywords or skills from each job posting. If you’re unsure of which words to choose, Augustine recommends pasting the text from the ad into a free word cloud app, which will tell you which resume skills, technologies, and qualifications the posting references most frequently.

Here's the reason this is tricky: you need to have the ATS find your resume. But the way you do that isn't for you to figure out what key words to create in your resume -- how would you know how to do that? 

And besides, it's way overcomplicated. 

Do you want to know how to get your resume found for the position by those automated systems? And then have the human that reads the result figure out that you have the job skills to do the job?

Here's how:

  • Use standard job titles in your resume. If your corporate job title is " Data Janitor III," put that in your resume as your corporate job title. But also put your title in there as "Database Administrator" because that is the standard industry job title for the position you are looking for. 
  • Ensure that each job skill required or optional in the job description is in the job skills section of your resume. You have to have the skill, of course. 

Instead of you trying to figure out what key words to use, do those two things and, trust me, the automated system will find you. And so will the human who wants to give you an interview that reads the results.

Use the bottom of the resume to show your personal interests

Put your personal interests at the bottom of the resume. And the reasoning that is always given is that the hiring manager will somehow magically have the same interests as you and want to hire you.

My humble response to that is the hiring manager could also look at those interests and just as easily not bother giving you an interview.

Suppose you are an animal activist and you put that down in the personal interest area of your resume. Then you apply to a company that has a division -- one you are not applying into -- that does drug testing on animals (as it is required to do in the US). Do you think that company wants any animal cruelty activists employed in their company? 

Um...no.

Now if you get to an actual interview and you are asked about some job skill you don't have from your work, but do have from activities you participate in (like President or on a board of a non-profit group), you can consider bringing that up during the interview.

But the Cubicle Warrior rule is talk about business accomplishments and results, not personal hobbies or activities.

There are more...

You get the idea - it's tough to figure out what's "good" advice and what's "bad" advice.

Here's a framework:

  • Does the advice help you match your job skills to the resume?
  • Does the advice help you show your job skills on the first page?
  • Does the advice help you show your accomplishments on the first page?
  • Does the advice help you show you can achieve business results for the potential hiring manager?

I have a point of view of what should be in the resume, of course. If you read resume advice and wonder if it's good or not, this framework will help you make a decision.

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