Sunday, November 22, 2009

Know Thyself

In preparing clients for interviews, I emphasize that if they can answer three key questions, they will set themselves apart from their competition. These questions are asked in some shape, manner or form of all candidates in almost every job interview:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What is your management/leadership style?
  • What is your greatest strength?

Your responses to these three questions demonstrate self knowledge. They show that you know what it is you do and how you do it. If you can articulate this, you’re far ahead of your competition. Most of us have difficulty with these questions. We don’t think about our value to an organization; we just do our job. The problem is, if we can’t articulate what it is we do well, how can we expect a prospective employer to figure it out? Or our current employer? They don’t have time to figure out how you can fit in their organization. It’s your primary job to be able to articulate your value to them. And yet, most of us wrestle with these questions.

So, how do you respond to these questions? The secret is in knowing what interviewers really want to know when they ask them; why they are asking these questions to begin with. They want to know what makes you unique; why they should hire you rather than the next candidate.

Tell me about yourself is usually the first thing that comes up in an interview. It’s your opportunity to set the tone; it’s your opening statement. You have the opportunity to let the interviewer know who you are and what you do best. Hint: It has nothing to do with your family, hobbies, or when or where you were born. It has everything to do with your value to the organization. So, it behooves you to know what they’re looking for and how you fit.

What is your management style? This refers to how you do what you do. Are you a collaborative leader? An “open door” manager? A hand’s on manager? How do you manage your team? You should know. You should also know, that regardless of your management style, the interviewer is really interested in knowing if you can make decisions. Can you step up and make the necessary decisions to keep things moving forward? This is a key factor in managing a team.

What is your greatest strength? This shows what makes you unique; what it is that separates you from everyone else. Sital Ruparelia, one of my favorite career writers, has a recent post, on Career Hub. He provides a guide for determining your unique talent (your natural abilities and your unique way of expressing them). You need to know your strengths and how they positively impact an organization. This is not necessarily about being organized or detail-oriented or honest or a having a strong work ethic. Lots of folks have these attributes. Your greatest strength – your unique talent – is about bringing value. What you do and how you do it that sets you apart from everyone else. Are you someone who can quickly sort through the details to recognize the heart of a complex issue and marshal the resources necessary to successfully address and resolve that issue? If so, that sets you apart from other, equally talented candidates.

So, as the Oracle at Delphi advised, “Know Thyself.” Know what you bring to an organization that sets you apart from everyone else and be able to articulate it clearly and concisely. Tell your story.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

End of the Plugger?

A few weeks ago, Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, published a column entitled “The New Untouchables.” Friedman noted that the new untouchables of today’s economy were those with the ability “to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work…” Those who waited for work to be assigned were the ones at risk of being let go and will be the last to be hired when jobs start to recover.

Stephanie Klein, President of The Boomer Group, commented that Friedman’s column “spells out the end of the ‘plugger’.” This is an interesting insight. When I think of my clients that are getting activity – interviews leading to job offers (yes, people are getting jobs) – they are the people who are working their butts off and demonstrating to potential employers that they can help the company realize – and monetize – new opportunities. Those folks who just want to do what they’ve always done, and wait for work to be assigned to them – the pluggers – are less successful.

Interestingly, the same holds true for companies. Companies looking at the current situation as a way to identify and take advantage of new opportunities are moving forward. Companies that are hunkering down, that are down to bare bones, not so much. They are waiting for something to happen rather than take initiative and identify new opportunities for business. These “plugger” companies that have prevented their “untouchable” workers from working smarter to find new opportunities will lose these talented people as soon as they find new places to land; thus, putting the plugger companies at even greater disadvantage. As noted a couple of weeks ago, the war for talent will be a critical factor in this recovery.

The “new untouchables” will be at the heart of the talent wars. As Friedman says in his column, “those with the imagination…to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies – will thrive.”

So are you a plugger or an untouchable? If you’ve been a plugger, can you bridge the gap to be an untouchable? Can you articulate the value you bring to a potential employer? Do you know what your value is? The challenge for pluggers is that many have been well rewarded over their careers for “plugging away.” Now they’re being asked to shift their paradigm; to tell another story about themselves.

Similarly if you’re an untouchable; you still need to articulate your value. If you’ve been an untouchable in a plugger company, the story you need to tell is one of potential, of future value. You’ll need to seek out the untouchable companies are and tell them the story of your potential; how you can help them achieve their next levels.

So shed your "pluggerness." Demonstrate value; don't get left behind.