Thursday, May 28, 2009

Interviews and Non - Verbal Communication

Your lips may not be moving and you haven't said a word, but you’re actually sending a message in all sorts of other ways without even realising it. You just have to make sure it's the right one.

So you‘ve been called for an interview for a great job. Your amazing CV has missed the reject pile, you’ve survived a telephone screening and now you think all you have to do is knock ‘em dead with your perfectly honed interview pitch. Right? No…. sorry… wrong.

Remember that first impressions are created within the first 10 seconds to give a lasting impression. 55% of a person’s perception of you is based on the way you look, the rest is split between how you say what you‘re saying, and finally, after all that, what you actually say. I know.. tough! So even assuming you’re suited and booted in absolutely the right way, you're completely prepared but will that be enough? No - afraid not. Non verbal communication is paramount. The way you look is significant , which incorporates, not just what you wear, but your posture, body language and general demeanour. These reveal more about you to the interviewer, than you will ever know. You want to show that you are calm, confident and professional, without being arrogant. Then you tell them how good you are.

So what to think of ?

· Smile – Remember we all smile in the same language. It’s the classic ice breaker.
· Handshake - should be firm - but not bone breaking. Ladies, this is really important. No limp finger tip tickling.
· Eye contact - is paramount -without looking crazed. It shows people you are engaged and interested. Erratic eye contact is associated with shiftiness and glazed eyes indicates lack of interest.
· Introduce yourself - OK, I know this is verbal, but it is too closely related to first impressions to be excluded. This is particularly important if your name has a difficult pronunciation, or the interviewer has a different first language to your own. I thought I had a sure fire way around any misunderstanding by saying ” I’m sorry – how do you pronounce your name?” The guy didn’t miss a beat and replied “Mike “. Didn’t do that again. If you’ve misheard – just apologise and ask them to say their name again.
· Repeat - the interviewers names a few times in the early part of your conversation ( without sounding robotic) more verbal communication - but for the same reason. This is a trick our US friends employ perfectly and one we Europeans could well emulate.
· Posture - Sit or stand straight if you want to be seen as alert and enthusiastic. When you slump in your chair, perch on a desk or lean against a wall, you look tired and bored. No one wants to recruit someone who looks lethargic and lacking in energy.
· Body - The angle of your body gives an indication to others about what's going through your mind. Leaning in shows interest, leaning or turning away the complete opposite. That says "I’ve had enough” Adding a nod of your head is another way to affirm that you are listening
· Head - Keeping your head straight, will make you appear self-assured and authoritative. People will take you seriously. Tilt your head to one side if you want to come across as friendly and open.
· Arms - crossed or folded over your chest suggests a lack of openness and can imply that you have no interest in the speaker or what they are saying. This position can also say, "I don't agree with you". You don't want to appear cold - I don't mean temperature here. Too much movement might be seen as erratic or immature. The best place for your arms is by your side. You will look confident and relaxed. If this is hard for you, do what you always do when you want to get better at something - practice. After a while, it will feel natural.
· Hands - In the business world, particularly when you deal with people from other cultures, your hands need to be seen. Make sure your fists aren’t closed – it suggests aggression. When you speak –don’t point your index finger at anyone. That is also an aggressive move. Having your hands anywhere above the neck, playing with your hair or rubbing your face, can be perceived as unprofessional.
· Legs - A lot of movement can indicate nervousness.The preferred positions for the polished professional are feet flat on the floor or legs crossed at the ankles. The least professional and most offensive position is resting one leg or ankle on top of your other knee. It looks arrogant. That's a guy thing (normally).
· Personal Space -there are lots of cultural differences regarding personal space. Standing too close or "in someone's face" will mark you as pushy or even aggressive. Positioning yourself too far away will make you seem remote. Neither is what you want, so find the happy medium. Most importantly, do what makes the other person feel comfortable. That shows empathy.
· Listen well -Active listening is a form of non verbal communication.It is a real skill and demonstrates engagement and empathy. Paraphrase and ask for clarification of any points, to make sure you have fully understood. Modify your body language to indicate you are fully engaged - leaning in slightly, making eye contact and nodding affirmation.
. Smell - if you're a smoker do try not to smoke any time before your interview. The smell lingers and some people, especially today, find it offensive. I'm personally relaxed about perfume/aftershave - but others aren't, so once again err on the side of caution.

Now you can make your elevator speech!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Twitter: Cynic to Convert in 10 weeks

Hello, my name's Dorothy.I'm a Twitter convert!

About 10 weeks ago @MD60 ( brother) suggested I sign up for Twitter. He insisted that it would be fun and a way for our dispersed family to stay connected. Unconvinced, mainly because of what I'd heard and read, I did finally register, but truthfully, it was because President Obama used it, rather than any family loyalty.

My efforts were rather half hearted. I followed @MD60, plus a couple of well known British celebs, which actually turned out to be duller than watching paint dry (sorry Bro!) I posted a few mundane things myself, trying to enter the spirit of it all. The minutiae of their daily lives held no interest for me at all. Cosmo Landesman of The Times (London) suggested that Twitter made even interesting people seem dull. I was in total agreement. I even bored myself.

But a few people, even through cyber-space, picked up on my "lost caused -ness". @karenpurves, @colinudelewis and @nicolabird and @judethecoach, all came to the rescue and went to huge lengths, with super supportive basic tips about choosing the right people to follow, posting a photo, leaving myself open to be followed (hadn't realised I was closed) and some of the other protocols. But even then, despite their encouraging words, cynicism still prevailed. Honestly... I did try - but the whole thing just completely eluded me. I sensed the tearing out of cyber hair.

Then one day - something kicked in. I have no idea really, even now, what it was. I think more by accident than design, I left the social media robots behind and finally started connecting with people with 3 digit IQs. Their tweets caught my eye and I started reading and responding. I engaged. I began to get, just a little, the Twitter etiquette and protocols. Gradually, there seemed to be a few people I was connecting with on regular basis who seemed fun, on the same wave length and prepared to give, rather than send automated messages and self publicity. I finally understood ( after 8 weeks - I know a slow study ) that I needed to download Tweetdeck to manage the activity.

Don't worry I'm not going to launch into a " How to..." pitch! Wouldn't dream of it! There's clearly no way someone can advise people on the detail of this process, when they only found the Tweet shorten button today! This is just to share my own Twitter journey. Sometimes the voices of the clueless, resonate as much as the voices of experts - a bit like Forrest Gump.

Generally, as an almost total beginner, what I look for are people that I find fun and interesting and are active in my areas of general interest. That's all. Nothing strategic or sophisticated at this point. I have no master plan. I make it a basic rule to only connect with people who have a photo or a convincing bio, wearing clothes. They do make a difference - so are mandatory, for me at least . I only follow animals if they are extremely funny.

I look at the stats just to check they're balanced and I can see that the individuals are active. I avoid braggers and give anyone pre-occupied with target-reaching a miss. Same for anyone who tries to hard- sell me anything early on. I am gradually identifying the egoists and I can see now that there are people who have the same messages on automated feeds which come around and around, 24/7. You know who you are! Guys, change the tape or stream ( or whatever it is that goes round) I suspect I will eventually decide to "un-follow" some of them, when I summon up the courage. Apparently this is " not a good thing". Whole contentious blogs are devoted to this process, with a slew of vitriolic exchanges in their wake.

So what has this got to do with a European Career Transition and Executive Search specialist? Why since last week, have I included a section introducing it into in my coaching programme? Don't worry - not the detail, just the principle.

At the moment 47% of Twitter traffic is US based, but that will change for sure. Just like the Big Mac, it will take root here in Europe. As more and more corporate HR and recruiters use it as a network, it will be another opportunity for candidates to raise their visibility and connectivity, in the hope of being found. With a job loss: job creation ratio at 3:1 in Europe, right now, job seekers need that. The churn on Twitter is huge, but people leave their bio details, and provided that the contact info doesn't change, that's great for internet sourcers.

But for me personally, and this is the message I share currently, the greatest value is the high speed communication of really useful, up to date information. Having it distilled and recommended by trusted sources is a major bonus. It's the sheer pace of the circulation that is amazing and fascincating. It's a wonderful way to stay in touch and keep a finger on an ever changing pulse. It has not only saved me hours of time, but brought my attention to sources and resources that I may have over looked or not even considered at all, simply because I didn't know they were there.

Earlier this week, I had dinner with a Tweet buddy @marionchapsal who was visiting Brussels. We had connected via Twitter. Despite mutterings from @MD60 about meeting strangers from cyber space, and the lady from Lyon turning out to be a potential axe murderer ( that thought is rooted in extensive knowledge of heinous on-line scams, following a long career in internet security) we had a wonderful, fun evening, sharing experiences and getting to know each other. What was most interesting, was that I saw immediately how 140 characters can convey a person's personality. She was exactly as she seemed in her Tweets! It was simply global networking at it's best. Virtual, became actual. Would our paths have crossed otherwise? Probably not. Just brilliant!

Somewhat approropiately, the restuarant of choice was the " Idiot de Village". Nothing lost in translation there.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Survivor Skills for the Employed

There are many forms of career transition in a working life: starting new jobs or careers, moving geographically, becoming a trailing spouse, taking maternity leave, having a new boss, promotions, retiring and experiencing re-structuring. And of course, in today's climate, losing jobs. But in a downturn, career transition doesn't just cover the people who have lost their jobs or are looking for new ones. It also covers the ones left on the "island".

“Survivors” are in a category which is quite often overlooked . These are the people who are actually still lucky enough to be employed. So what's the problem, you might be asking? They're OK. Why should we care about them?

Well, perhaps they are the ones making the cuts. They might be sending long standing colleagues or employees into uncertain professional and economic futures. Those very people might share social and professional networks and even live in the same local communities.

These “survivors” are possibly expected to meet established or even tighter deadlines and targets, with reduced teams and budgets and no immediate rewards. Perhaps they have taken pay cuts, voluntarily or otherwise, but with the same personal financial commitments. Bonuses are a thing of the past and all motivational programmes have been cancelled. So, no more trips to exotic places, “Dinner for Two” vouchers, employee of the month receptions, or company outings. Travel privileges might have been down graded, inter-continental flights are in coach and even free coffee in the office has been abolished.

In some sectors,banking and finance for example, public opinion is negative towards all employees, not just those senior directors accused of negligence. My daughter, a "survivor" in a London legal firm, has been openly harrassed on the way to work, just because she happened to be walking past a bank wearing a business suit. In manufacturing companies, management teams have been locked in their offices by angry ex-employees in many different countries.

"Survivors" might be fearful of taking vacations, or sick leave, in case their absence makes their jobs vulnerable. This culture of “presentee- ism” means spending longer hours in the office, just to be visible. Other key relationships might be suffering because of this. Partners are getting mad, dinners end in bins and the kids feel neglected. There might be instances where challenging projects have been cut or put on hold, leaving only routine tasks. Perhaps they are managing teams who are de-motivated, leaving a tense atmosphere between colleagues or even direct conflict. Information sharing might be reduced, resulting in lack of trust.

Perhaps protectionist strategies are in place, sometimes completely unconsciously, to safeguard workloads, business practises or seniority, all to the detriment of the organisation as a whole. Health issues are on the increase. Client or customer feedback is starting to become negative or impatient and profitability is falling further. All of this impacts the bottom line. All hard to audit.

They daren't complain because they know what the alternatives are. They certainly can't complain to you, can they? So how do they stay motivated in a such a stressful working environment? If you are a survivor what can you do?

Well a good idea might be to borrow from Einstein. His 3 rules of work would seem pretty sensible here: "From clutter find simplicity. From discord find harmony. From difficulty find opportunity".

Here are some very tip of the iceberg suggestions:

  • Simplify: Break your situation down into manageable, measurable parts. Strategise. Formulate a mission statement, set yourself some achieveable positive, action -orientated, time -bound goals. Include all aspects of your life, but also make fall back provisions. Nothing in life ever works perfectly - well not in mine anyway. As someone said, the most successful people are good at Plan B.

  • Harmonise: Choose how you react to your situation. This gives you control. Communicate, be open and engage with your team and colleagues. Assess your own performance, try to get a clear understanding of your professional responsibilities and know how you will be assessed. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. What can you do better? How can you achieve that?

  • Maximise: Extend your professional network not just for support, but for information and experience exchange. Gain new skills. Refresh old ones. Set up a plan for personal development and make sure you take care of yourself physically and psychologically
"Experience, is not what happens to you. Experience is what you do with what happens to you." Aldous Huxley

And because you can't dance ( always good for the soul) to either Einstein or Huxley, try Gloria Gaynor ... "I will survive"

Friday, May 8, 2009

Career Management: A Learned Skill

Countless numbers of CVs cross my screen every day, either from candidates in the search process, or clients involved in transition coaching. So I’m pretty familiar with them.

In the past week alone, by chance, I have seen a CV without an email address, one seemingly without a name (really.. although it did finally appear at the bottom of the 3rd page, in italics, font size 10) Another two, where it was impossible to tell what job the candidates actually did. This is before going into the more sophisticated aspects of SEO, transferrable, value-adding skills and the like. It's a snapshot of a standard, unexceptional week. All four felt that they could manage their careers themselves. There were more - but you get the picture.

I did have one perfect resume (my spirits lifted – it doesn’t take much!) But when the candidate came to the interview, disappointment kicked in. Within minutes of our discussion, I could tell from the responses, that the guy in front of me bore no resemblance to the message conveyed in the resume. There was a credibility gap, a big one. Why? It just wasn’t his voice. The CV had been written by a CV writing service with no integrated or follow-up coaching. When we talked about the process he had been through, he had made a decision that finding a job was something he could do on his own. He believed he didn’t need anything else.

I am starting to wonder if career management is like raising kids and being in relationships. Is it something most of us feel we can all do instinctively? Until there’s a problem. So now, even in the face of all the statistics that scream change and difficult times, job losses outstrip vacancies 3:1 in Europe; we still have a tendency to believe that we can cope on our own.

Discussions on this subject tend to centre on what I call the “Yes..but” dialogue. “Yes” means “ I hear and recognise what is going on”. The inner message suggests openness “But” means “ I’m not going to change. There is something about the status quo that suits me, even if it’s being stressed " The inner message is closed.

My observation is that there are a number of consistent factors that people use as claims for their rightful spot in the “but” camp: no energy, no time, cost.

So I am just asking you to try reframing your thoughts and putting them into perspective. Manage your mind!

Reframe the no energy issue. Formulate a mission statement. This is just a buzz word for an action orientated, note-to-self. If you have been caught out in this downturn and are currently feeling overwhelmed, now would be a good time to deal not just with those specific issues, but also to prepare for the future. Life is never static and nothing is permanent. There will be other situations to deal with right throughout your career. Promotions, re-organisations and transfers are just some of the possible changes that any of us face, even in sound economic times. If you found a hole in your roof, would you wait until the next storm to fix it? No, I doubt if you would

A mission statement will help you focus on what is important in your life, so that you can prioritise your goals and provide a framework for your daily decisions. It will allow you to act, not react. This opens up a whole raft of possibilities. Choose strategies that offer long term skills and problem solving tools, which you can use again and again, not just a band–aid, quick fix approach, to get you out of a short term jam. You need to commit to the journey, not just a stroll. That will help you bridge the credibility gap. Include objectives to nurture yourself both emotionally and physically. These steps will make you feel more in charge. Empowerment is energising. Energy creates time.

Reframe the question of time. There is a wealth of free resources online , in libraries and inexpensive bookshops. But I agree, it does it takes a huge amount of time to sort through the vast quantities of conflicting, often confusing, professional information. Let’s look at this too.

Seemingly the average American watches 4h 32m of TV per day, while in Europe its 3h 37m per person. There has apparently been a 38.8% increase for online video viewing, in the 12 months, March 2008 to 2009. Even if you cut back by 10 percent on your favourite shows, that would still release about 3 hours a week to focus on your career goals. I took a week in elapsed time to download all my CDs onto my iPod. Most of our daughters take way over an hour to get ready for a date.

So the question to ask yourself – can you really not find the time?

Reframe the question of cost. Step back and put the question on any current or future investment regarding career transition support into perspective.

You spend at least 8 hours of any day working at your job. This goes on for possibly 40 years. Total will be about 76,000 hours in your life or career. Do the maths. Even as a daily investment – how minimal is any expenditure throughout a working career? Now put that into context. We are talking about fractions of Dollars, Euros, Pounds, Yen and most other currencies over a total working life.

If this is something you can’t stretch to now, make a note to build professional support into your future budget, in the way you might make contingency funds for painting your house or that hole in your roof.

These simple strategies should get us out of the "but" camp. But only if that's not where we want to be.

To solve any problem, there are three questions to ask yourself: First, what could I do? Second, what could I read? And third, who could I ask? Jim Rohn

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Cover Letter Debate

Do you ever wonder about lists?

I do.

We seem to like lists. You must have seen them. 10 ways to write a perfect CV. 20 job search tips. 10 things not to do in an interview. 12 ways to stay positive. They seem to give our lives structure in so many different ways and help us feel in control. Of course, when we feel in control - we feel secure.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m no different! I love lists.

But sometimes I wonder if sticking to lists, stops us thinking for ourselves, trusting our instincts and responding creatively.

One of my observations about job search strategies over recent years is that there are no long term hard and fast rules and procedures any more. Any structures and systems seem to exist for a short time only, before we need another set of rules to deal with them.

This is just one example. I read an article the other day, about sending cover letters with CVs. A small thing. STOP using them it exhorted in Tahoma 22. Never send them. Waste of time and energy. This communication went out globally. There was a strong implication that life, as it was known to that point, would be positively overturned by a flood of interview opportunities.

My immediate thought was - yes! Great advice. Totally true! Of course, it will get peeled away by some word recognition recruitment software, the second your CV is downloaded by an HR assistant or hits an internet job site. If you’re applying for a job, say, as a Product Manager with an international conglomerate, headquartered in London, New York, Paris, or Sydney with highly automated recruitment processes, the chances of that happening are almost 100%. So, absolutely right, save your time and energy for other things. Enjoy your great, new, interview filled life.

But then I thought. Hang on! Wait a minute! What if you are approaching a small or medium sized business, perhaps in your home town, which might be Stratford (US or UK), Grenoble or Gannons Creek? You might know several key managers, which actually gives you some leverage. So would it still be wise to do that? What if you’re contacting a CEO, or senior manager, of any organisation, anywhere at all and had been referred by a mutual connection? Would ditching a cover letter under those circumstances be good advice?

My answer in these cases is categorically, a cover letter might turn out to be key. You have connections. You might be/are in the same network, professional or social. You might have a qualified referral. They might know your current employer, your aunt, a teacher, a golf buddy – or even you! So not to send a cover letter might not only be construed as being rude, but it would definitely be under utilising the opportunity to maximise your personal connections, to sell yourself and your obvious talents and experience.

So what do we learn? Yes, there are indeed some, perhaps many, occasions where not to use a cover letter will save you time and energy. But there are also times when it will be extremely helpful.

So although there might be broad underlying patterns and trends in some areas, each opportunity and relationship is unique and should be considered as such. Circumstances vary and each job application requires a flexible and different approach. So you need to be prepared to tweak your basic CV and orientate it towards each opportunity, with or without, a cover letter. Only you can decide.

Does that make your life easier? No, of course not. That would be too simple. It means you have to assess each organisation and opportunity, research them and make a judgement call! Then take responsibility and make a strategic decision.

Isn’t that control?