Hut 1, Hut 2, Hired!

Those who know me or follow my blog know that I love college football.  There are many lessons one learns in athletics that can be applied to one’s career search.  Because of this synergy,  I often use athletics in my examples when discussing career planning and thought I would use the ND Football program to demonstrate.  Let’s look at lessons learned from the gridiron and how it applies to interviewing.

Preparation:  Everything in life comes down to preparation.  Did you study for your exams?  Did you pack everything you needed for your business trip? Did you save for retirement?  Did you pre-heat the oven prior to putting in the Thanksgiving turkey? No matter what stage of life you are in or what task you are doing, preparation is the key to success.  This holds true in football and interviewing.

An ND football game has 60 minutes of field time (not including NBC commercials), of which there are only about 12 minutes of action for ND’s offense or defense.  The ND Football program will put in an average of 30-40 hours a week per person on the practice field, film and weight rooms, individual and team conditioning workouts, game strategy sessions, etc. in preparation for those 12 minutes of action.

This same approach needs to be applied to one’s search.  For example, interviewing.  One needs to prepare for much more than just 30 minutes for a half-hour interview.  Research programs/services/clients of the employer, industry trends, news about the firm, talk with individuals at the organization, etc. to help you prepare for the interviews.  Thorough preparation for an interview dramatically increases the likelihood of a strong interview.

Practice: In meeting rooms, coaches will diagram offensive plays and defensive schemes and discuss the individual responsibilities of each position.  Football teams have playbooks that are hundreds of pages thick, detailing every play that could be called during a game.  All these “Xs and Os” are important as it is part of the preparation stage; now the team is expected to practice.

Knowing one’s responsibilities on any given play is important, executing the play is the next level of mastery.  It is not enough to know what to do, one must be able to execute the play.

Execution is critical in an interview as one needs to be able to communicate the skills, experiences, and examples requested by the interviewer.  Often one thinks through what he would like to say during an interview but does not actually practice delivering coherent answers.  One should practice answering questions to be familiar with delivering winning responses at the real interview.

Gameplan: Often one will hear a coach talk about a gameplan for success (want to get a running back 20-25 touches, avoid giving up big plays, eliminate mental mistakes, etc.).  Bill Walsh, legendary San Francisco 49ers coach, would go as far as script the first 25 offensive plays of the game.  He knew what he wanted to establish with regards to his offense  – and this approach worked more often than not (see Super Bowls XVI, XIX, XXIII).

It is good to have a gameplan for your interview. What do you want the interviewer to remember about you after you leave the room? Are there certain skills you want to illustrate to the hiring manager?  What image do you want to leave with the interview team?  Go into the interview with a gameplan of what you want to accomplish – you have better odds of achieving these goals than if you leave it up to chance.

Review and Evaluate: Sunday’s film session at Notre Dame was not an event in which I would want to participate.  Every week, coaches and players review the film from the previous game, evaluate performances, and identify areas that went well and areas that need to be improved upon prior to the next week.  I cannot imagine many, if any players left that meeting without receiving a few pointed words of instruction.

After each interview one should evaluate the meeting – what went well and what needs to be addressed prior to the next interview.  No matter how painful the review may be, it is important to take an honest look at your performance.

Who would have thought interviewing and football were so aligned?  I hope your next interview looks like ND of 2012 and not ND of 2007.

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Post Career Fair Tips

With Career Fair Week in full swing at Carnegie Mellon University, I thought it an opportune time to share advice with attendees on how to make the event a success.  In yesterday’s post, I focused on actions to take prior to the event – identifying a target list of firms and conducting research on those companies – and how to work a large career fair.  Today, we close the circle and address the steps to take after the fair.

Before leaving the event, be sure you have all your materials and you have no unanswered questions for your target firms.  It is best to revisit a booth and speak face to face to resolve a question than trying to get an answer via email.  When you return to your dorm or apartment, make a list of follow-up items in order of importance:

1) Send a thank you and/or follow-up correspondence to the recruiters with whom you met.  If there were any pieces of information they requested from you, be sure to include them in your correspondence.  Do not wait until a couple of days later to act; strike when they still recall your conversation.

Mr. Smith, 

Thank you for speaking with me this evening at the Business Opportunities Conference on 9/19.  I appreciated your advice/insight on (insert topic to help him remember you).  I will be sure to apply for the marketing research internship in the coming day and I look forward to interviewing for this opportunity.  Safe travels back to _____ and thank you again for recruiting at Carnegie Mellon.

Most career fair student attendees will not take the time to follow-up with individuals they met at the event.  To set yourself apart, take the time to solidify the impression you made and build your rapport with recruiter.

2) Act on Applications, instead of waiting a week to apply for an opportunity, use the knowledge you have gained from the recruiter to tailor your resume and apply for positions. Also, be cognizant that although you may have given your resume to the recruiter, you may still need to apply through other channels (company site, TartanTrak campus module) in order to be considered an applicant.

3) Evaluation:  Take some time to evaluate your experience and performance.  Did you conduct enough research prior to the fair?  Did you feel you made a good impression?  Did any companies move up/down/off your A or B lists?  If you had to go to another career fair next week, what would you do more of and less of?

With your career search, it is important to evaluate one’s progress after big events like a career fair or interview.  Keep striving to improve your approach in order to be even more successful in the future career events.

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Career Fair Tips

Today marks the beginning of Career Fair Week at Carnegie Mellon.  By Friday, over 350 firms and 1000+ employer reps will have descended onto campus to meet and interview CMU students.  So how does one prepare for a career fair?

As with most things in life, preparation is key.  The Career Fair week hosts an overwhelming number of people and one must realize the need to prepare before trying to navigate events of this size.  My first piece of advice is not to bite off more than one can chew.  This means finding 8-10 top firms you wish on which to focus your efforts.

8-10: There is no physical way one can visit each employer table and it is not conceivable that one would want to speak with all 350 firms.  I recommend reviewing the anticipated attendee list and identifying 8-10 firms per event that are of most interest to you.  To help you trim the list, you should evaluate the types of roles the firm is recruiting for and whether they are looking for full-time or interns.

You may be surprised that some of the firms that are attending the fair may not be looking for so-called obvious majors.  For example, at a career fair I helped organize last year, Ford Motor Company attended but were not recruiting automotive engineers.  Instead, they were attending the fair to recruit Finance and Accounting majors.

Another good strategy is to identify one or two firms that are new to recruiting at these events.  Often these firms have a more difficult time attracting candidates and thus the competition level (and waiting lines) may be less.

Research:  So you now have a list of 8-10 firms, take some time to conduct research. Visit companies’ webpages, follow them on social media sites, talk to those who have worked or interned at companies on your target list. Be sure you know some basics about the firms and the position(s) they are looking to fill:

  • Services/Products of the firms
  • Positions looking to fill
  • Desired qualifications
  • Locations
  • Recent news about the firm and industry
  • Draft 3-4 questions you wish to ask (questions should elicit information that will help you strengthen your application and your evaluation of the firm)

Conduct research and create a one page “cheat sheet” on each firm.  This information will come in handy when you attend the career fair.

Since you get one shot at a first impression, and you are trying to distinguish yourself from the 100+ attendees the employer will see, you want to ensure you are ready with your best pitch.

A-B List: Now that you have researched your top eight to ten companies, create an “A” and “B” list of firms.  Which firms are you most excited about?  They go on the “A” list.  When you attend the fair, the first company you approach should be from your “B” list.  Why?

A career fair can be a stressful situation and you should allow yourself sometime to “warm-up”.  Approach a company that is less desirable and you may not feel the pressure to perform.  Also, if you are awkward in your approach, at least your awkwardness was not in front of one of your top choices.

Cheat Sheets: Have a one page cheat sheet for each company you wish to meet.  While waiting in line or preparing to go over to the company booth, pull out the sheet you created during your research. It should contain pertinent company information, details about the position they are recruiting for, and questions you would like to ask.  This last-minute cram session can help you remember key facts about the firm and help you in nailing your pitch.

The Pitch:  You are up.  Approach the employer representative with a smile, make good eye contact, and offer a strong handshake.  Now it is time to make your introduction.  I recommend:

  • Core information (name, major, class year)
  • Why you are interested in the firm
  • What you can offer the employer
  • Questions you have

Hello, my name is Kevin Monahan and a I am a junior Global Studies major.  It is great to see Procter & Gamble recruiting as I grew up on your products  (Tide, Crest, Gillette).  I noticed P&G is recruiting for a marketing intern and I know I can offer strong market research and problem solving skills (hopefully you mention skills P&G listed on the internship posting).   I do have some questions I would like to ask you about the internship…

Now it is time to ask your questions.  Your questions should be specific to the role and company.  Questions should elicit information that you can use to improve your application, prepare you for an interview, or teach you more about the company or the role.

Closing:  You have asked your questions and are ready to make your exit.  Thank the recruiter for their time and the information.  Express your strong interest in the role and ask for the recruiter for their contact information or business card:

Thank you for your time and all the information.  I believe I am ready to apply and will do so in the coming day.  Could I get your email or business card, as I would like to follow-up with you after I have applied for the marketing internship.

Some firms may be interviewing the very next day, if so be sure to make an ask for an interview:

Thank you for your time and the information about the internship.  I saw that P&G is scheduled to interview tomorrow – if that is the case I want to express  my strong interest in interviewing for the marketing internship program.  I know I can be successful at Procter and Gamble in this role and I hope you consider adding me to your interview schedule.

As you leave the booth and take a few steps to provide some distance between you and the employer, take a few minutes to jot down some notes about your meeting on your cheat sheet for the company.  Now it is time to move onto the next employer.

After you visit a couple of your ‘B’ companies, move to your ‘A’ list and take care of those firms.  You want to visit with them while you and they are still fresh.  Complete the event by visiting the rest of your ‘B’ list and maybe even stopping off at a few companies that were not even on either of your lists.  Enjoy the event and engage employers in conversation – you never know where it may lead.

Tomorrow: Tips on Post-Fair Actions You Should Consider

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Motivating “Cruise Control” Employees

You know this person. He arrives at 8:00 a.m. and clocks out exactly at 5:00 p.m. –never a minute late on either end.  He does what is assigned and his work performance is satisfactory.  He has been doing the same job the same way for years.

On the surface, the “Cruise Control” employee appears to be a good team member: on time, dependable, and gets his work done.  By these measures, he is a fine employee.  But what happens when the job begins to pass him by or you need increased work output from him?

Because technology and other advancements have accelerated the pace and increased the volume most employees are asked to shoulder on any given day, “Cruise Control” employees can find themselves falling behind. When this scenario occurs, he no longer looks like such a solid employee.  When more is needed, how does a manager motivate the “Cruise Control” employee to strive for more than the average?

Acknowledge the Problem: The first hurdle is to communicate with the employee that a problem exists and to help him acknowledge that there is an issue.  Is he handling 80 percent of what the average employee is asked to handle?  Are projects taking longer for him to complete than the rest of the staff?  What is the issue and why is it a problem?

Identify Incentives: What is important to the “Cruise Control” employee?  Is it a chance at a bonus?  How about flex-time?  More control over his operations?  Whatever it is, find the right buttons to push for this employee to get him to move beyond the basics.  I have experience with employees who have stepped up their efforts when the right motivation was offered. The key to making the incentive work is to have very clear goals as to what was expected from you and from your employee.

Present a Logical Argument: If the landscape has changed and the old ways are no longer acceptable, have that conversation with the employee.  If you need him to use technology to handle a larger client load, tell him this.  If his way of doing things is no longer acceptable in the new paradigm, do him the favor of discussing this with him on the sooner side.  Few people enjoy such difficult discussions, but honesty honors the employee’s dignity.

Offer an Ultimatum: Probably the least effective tactic, this strategy is necessary from time to time.  When incentives fail and communicating why change is required is met with a blank stare, it may be time to implement the ultimatum.  Explain that change needs to happen, why it needs to happen, and the consequences if these conditions are not met. This option truly is a last resort because the employee is forced to choose – change or quit.  No one wants to be put into this scenario as the boss or the employee.

Motivating someone to change their ways or to increase their productivity when they are doing the minimum by choice is not an easy task.  What advice would you offer a manager who is facing this issue?

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Overcoming Obstacles to Innovation in the Office – Part II

In a recent post, I shared some profiles of employees who make change difficult in an office setting.  I offered some ideas on how to work around or through these individuals in the first “Overcoming Obstacles” installment.  Today, I offer thoughts on the remaining change-inhibitors: the Role Player, the Unknown, and the Just One More.

The Role Player & The Unknown: Many of us attribute much of our self-identity with our work roles, and a change in the latter will impact the former.  These individuals will be very concerned about how the proposed change will affect his or her job responsibilities.

“The Unknown” staff member is resistant to change because there are too many unanswered questions for him/her to be comfortable. Discovering what job-related questions keep the “Unknown” awake at night is the first step to helping the staff member be more comfortable with change in the office. To help get the “Role Player” and “Unknown” on board with proposed changes within the office, communication is key.

During the introduction of the proposed idea, you may not be ready to discuss how the changes will affect each person and his or her individual role.  If you can, share information to reassure the person about what you do know will–or will not–change.  For example, I went through a change process in an office and we were all told that no one would be let go and no one’s salary would be reduced.  Job functions and titles were subject to change, but I knew I still had a job (albeit one with different responsibilities) and my paycheck would not be negatively affected.  There was still uncertainty during the process, but the greatest fears were off the table.

As the change process continues, continue to communicate to the Role Players within your office in order to keep them up-to-date with information.  Do not promise anything you cannot deliver and be careful what information you do share. Staff will tend to hear your comment that “there is a chance we may move to a larger facility” as “we are all getting larger offices in a new, high-tech facility that has windows overlooking downtown .”

Information is a desired commodity within an office. Providing accurate and timely information allows the Role Players and Unknowns within your office to feel more secure with change.

Just One More: The final personality that can impede innovation is sometimes the most difficult to unearth.  The Just One More person agrees that things have to change in the office; the current operation is not sustainable or in the best interests of the organization.  However, the solution this person provides is always adding staff or budget dollars.  While there are times organizations have to add staff or budget, the “Just One More” employee sees this as the go-to solution for problems.  To help this person think beyond bodies and dollars, consider the following tactics:

  • Lottery and Bankrupt: Have staff envision what changes they would implement if money were not an issue and what changes they would implement if they were forced to cut 10% out of the operational (not salary) expense.  This exercise will allow people to dream big and identify areas that are not mission critical.  The next step is to have individuals brainstorm how to do more on the first list with only a slight increase in budget, say the dollar amount equal to 10% of the operational budget. Their new ideas they identified in the first exercise will be funded by the money they saved by implementing the cuts during the second exercise.
  • Process Review: If your office needs a jolt of efficiency, consider leading staff through a process review.  Staff members identify a process they deal with on a regular basis that causes them frustration.  Have staff identify all the steps of the process (details is important during this step), who touches the process, who is affected by the process, and what is the desired outcome needed by the process.  Often, the individual can identify areas/steps that are inefficient or time wasters (often occurring when processes require the employee to gather approvals or hand-off to other staff).  Having the employee identify areas of improvement creates buy-in for change and can improve office efficiency without spending a dollar or hiring more staff.  And if their solution creates a better work environment, the next time a change is suggested, the employee may look for areas to improve as opposed to adding staff or dollars.

Change can be difficult.  Change is inevitable.  Preparing your office for change through good communication and allowing staff to suggest ideas for improvement will help make the process more palatable for employees.

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Overcoming Obstacles to Innovation

In a recent post, I shared a handful of “Innovation Obstacle” personalities that can be found in most office settings.  Many readers remarked about working with some of these personalities, and a few readers were brave enough to admit they assumed some of these traits from time to time.  Now that we have identified the obstacles, we need to identify ways to overcome, or work around, these individuals within your office.

The Outlier: The Outlier is the person on your team who always focuses on the 1% negative instead of the 99% positive when trying new ideas.  When this individual begins to resurrect the outlying examples where the previous attempts at innovation did not work, I recommend two possible approaches to counter his concerns.

    • How can we avoid these scenarios from happening again? Since the employee insists on bringing up the negatives, ask him for ideas on how to prevent these situations from happening when this program/idea is implemented.  This will help create some buy-in from the employee (his idea of how to fix the problem) while communicating that you are moving forward with the program/idea.  Bob, what ideas do you have to prevent the scenario you just described from happening when we implement the new program this fall?
    • Focus the conversation on the 99% Keep the conversations on the positive outcomes that were generated from the previous iteration of the program/idea.  This approach is preferred if there are no solutions to the outlying problems or if the employee continues to focus on the 1%.  By keeping your end of the conversations on the overwhelmingly positive outcomes, you will build momentum for the idea with others in the office.

The History Major: “But we have always done it this way,” says the employee who does not want to implement a new idea.  When I encounter this individual, I try the following techniques:

    • Why? Ask the question, “Why?” the next time you hear the objection about always having done things a certain way in the office.  Be genuine in your request as the individual may have a valid reason for the procedures and may convince you to abandon your idea.  If the person cannot provide a solid reason as to why things are done a certain way, your  asking the “‘Why?” question will initiate a discussion where the other party does not have a defensible position.
    • Burning Plank: The History Major likes to hearken back to some mysterious time when things were simpler, gas cost $0.85 a gallon, Archie and Edith were still belting out “Those were the days…”  Since you cannot transport to the 1970’s you need to motivate the History Major to action.  Creating a “Burning Plank” scenario can help.  If you need to cross a ravine via a plank, you may be very timid and move slowly for fear of what may happen.  If that plank was on fire, you would cross the ravine with a sense of urgency before a catastrophic event occurred.  Can you create a scenario where the status quo is such an unattractive option (staying put on a burning plank) that action is the favored option?  A few years ago I had to convince my office to change software packages from a home-grown system that had been used for several years to a packaged solution.  The home-grown system had begun to break down and the IT professional who built the system was no longer an employee.  I was able to convince the staff that it was a matter of time before these small outages turned into a five-alarm meltdown and staying with the homegrown (i.e. known, comfortable) software was not a viable option.  This scenario caused a group of people who were usually resistant to changes in technology to openly migrate to a new software package.
    • Utopia: Seeing the past through rose-colored glasses may be the MO of the History Major and you can use this to your advantage.  Believing in a future that is markedly better than the current state of affairs, employees will be willing to live with some short-term grief.  Consider a kitchen remodeling project.  It is dirty, expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive process. However, the promise of new appliances, cabinets, and counter tops is so appealing that tens of thousands of homeowners go through the pain of a kitchen remodel every year.  Help your staff see the promise of a new tomorrow to encourage them to take action today.

Tomorrow we tackle how to overcome the personalities of the Role Player, the Unknown, and the “Just One More” obstacles to office innovation.

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Obstacles to Innovation in the Office

ObstacleAt times during my career, I have been part of teams that feared new ideas.  In today’s markets, when teams fear trying new ideas, businesses can quickly become outdated.  In order to create a culture that embraces innovation, you have to identify the root cause for team members’ apprehension. I have found some common personalities you may encounter in your efforts to encourage innovation.

  • The Outlier: This person often looks constipated when an idea is raised.  His argument against change is based upon an experience – an idea that was tried in the past and although successful in the overall scheme, had one or two issues.  When the idea of trying the program again is mentioned, this team member brings up, and focuses all his comments on, the exceptions (the outliers).  Instead of trying to fix the one or two hiccups, he prefers to stick with the old ways.  The individual does not appreciate the good that was done but rather draws attention to negative examples as reason not to attempt the idea.
  • The Role Player: New ideas will ultimately change how individuals work and potentially their roles in the office.  Many of us attribute much of our self-identity with our work lives and a change in the latter will impact the former.  Potentially changing how one defines oneself at work can cause the “Role” player to be hesitant to change.
  • The History Major: The “History Major” is the person in the office who responds to new ideas with “But we’ve always done it this way.”  This individual is very comfortable in the status quo and cannot give a good reason as to why processes are in place other than… “We’ve always done it this way.”  When you interact with the “History Majors”, the phrases “Stay the course” and “Don’t rock the boat” are swimming around in their heads. Inertia can be a very powerful force.
  • The Unknown: The “Unknown” individual is a complicated persona as the root to the “Unknown” person is not fully knowing/comprehending/buying into a part/parts of the idea. The issue may be how this new idea will be implemented, how it will work, or what is the desired outcome – some question(s) have not been fully answered for this person to be on board yet.  
  • The “Just One More“: This person is an unusual character.  She appears to be open to change as she recognizes the current mode of operation is not sustainable. The catch is the only ideas she likes are to add more staff or spend more money.  Instead of looking for areas to improve efficiency or eliminating less profitable activities/products, she only pushes for the option of adding staff and/or resources as the ‘change’ that is needed.

Change can be difficult – this is coming from a guy who in the last five months welcomed a baby into the family, moved said family 300+ miles, quit a good job and started a new role, and sold and bought a house.  At times during the last five months, I have been the Outlier, the History Major, the Role Player, etc. in my life and work.  

What are the other anti-change personalities you have come across in your workplace?

Each one of these personalities should be listened to as these people can help you avoid a disaster.  However, there comes a time when change needs to happen and you must learn to get these people to buy into change.

Next: Dealing with the Anti-Changers in Your Office

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