The Reference Game

References have been one of the final steps of the hiring process for years. Managers wanted verification that the person they want to hire is as good as they think they are. 

And who better to hear from than other managers?

Problems started to arise when managers were a bit loose with the material they shared like inadvertently giving confidential information about the candidate or the business.

Also, if a candidate did not get a role because of a bad reference, disputes arose and lawyers got involved. It was ugly.

At that point, HR in many companies created policies that prevented managers from providing references, only HR could. And because HR did not always know the person, they would only verify title and employment dates.

Not helpful.

As always, there was a workaround. Candidates would provide the contact info for a former manager who was no longer at the company and not bound by reference policies.

Smart, career minded people stay in touch with corporate friends and allies for this reason.

You can be sure that the material from this “cultivated” group is going to be positive through and though.

Employers started to question the validity of these references. This saw the evolution of the “back door” reference. This is when you know someone who knows the candidate and you reach out to see what they are really like. 

Although I see where this is seen as helpful, it puts us back to the bad old days of off-the-cuff references that are based on a general feeling as opposed to bona fide skills and experience.

I talked to one person who got her last job without providing references. The company no longer believed in them. They re- structured the interview process and started to use assessment tools. They felt that the information was much more useful and they felt just as good about their hires.

What’s your point of view on references? Pile of praise or pile of baloney?

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Don’t Park your Career for the Summer

Contrary to popular belief, the summer is a great time to get a new job. Sure, hiring managers go on vacation but that does not mean that all activity stops. Business goes on and plans for the fall often require new skills and more people.
Summer is rich with networking opportunities. A bunch of my friends did a big fund raising walk last week and there were a lot of corporate teams participating. It is not hard to pick out someone wearing a team jersey of one your most admired companies and strike up a conversation about walking shoes.

It’s safe to say you have more in common than just looming blisters.
And let’s not forget sports tournaments. Whether you are at a charity golf thing or your kid’s soccer tournament, you will be spending time with people you don’t know. These are prime opportunities to learn about new industries, companies and jobs.

If you meet someone interesting, jot down a couple of notes on your phone. When you get back to your regular life, find the person on LinkedIn and ask them to connect. Mention where you met in case they don’t remember.

The next time you see a job posted at their firm, you can hit them up for information.
Sometimes the conversation can turn serious pretty quickly. If you find yourself talking about your work and the person says “We should talk – give me a call on Monday”, then get their card and ask what time would be best. Do some research on the company and make the call.

Be ready. This stuff really happens. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked someone how they got their role and they start with “Well, it’s kind of a funny story…..”

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Making the Most of the Information Interview

When you are thinking about moving your career in another direction, you need information.  You need to understand what it’s really like, how it pays and if possible, how to get there.

One of the best ways to do this is the information interview. This is when someone who is in your chosen segment/field/industry agrees to sit down with you to share some of those details.

You can meet with company presidents, people who sit on industry associations, technical experts.  They are all potential sources of information to support your decision making.

When you approach people, make it clear that you are looking for information, not a job (even if, deep down, you are looking for a job). They should see meeting with you as a low risk, low maintenance opportunity to show what they know.

When you are in one of the meetings, your body language needs to be calm and relaxed.  Remember this is not about a job and it is not about you.

But that doesn’t mean you can go in unprepared.  

Think ahead of time about what you want to learn.  Have five or six questions you want to have answered. Make sure one of them focuses on the person who is giving you all this good intel.  You could ask how they got into the business or what it is that they really love about it.

Take notes if you’d like but make sure to do lots of listening.  That’s what you are there for – to listen and learn.

When the person starts to shuffle around and look like they are ready to finish, respect that.  Stand up, shake their hand and thank them for their time and willingness to share what they have shared.

It is wise to send a thank you note the next day.  It can be handwritten or emailed – It’s a great way to show how much you appreciated the respect they gave you.

You might want to drop a note to the person who referred you.  We frequently lose sight of those people and let’s face it, in many cases, they really got the ball rolling for you.

Information interviews really are a great way to get the inside info on what’s going on – make the most of them.

 

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When Headhunters Apply for Jobs

I got a good refresher on the candidate experience this week.  I was surfing around LinkedIn when I saw an interesting job posted.  It looked like something I might want to do.  I hemmed and hawed for a while on the decision-making teeter totter.  Should I?  Shouldn’t I?  I like what I do but what if there is something better?

I took a deep breath and  sent an email.  Whew.

Then I went about my day and forgot all about it.  Until two days later when it dawned on me that no one had called me.  All of the sudden, I was back in sixth grade.  Do they like me? Was I too forward?  Am I barking up the wrong tree?  When should I call to follow up?  Now?  Maybe I should wait.  For about ten minutes, I was like a dog chasing my tail.

Then the phone rang.  It was not the employer.  It was a client.  I got my head back in the game and forgot about the whole thing.

Later, I actually did get a call from the headhunter.  We had a nice chat.  Ultimately, we decided that my experience did not quite fit the employer’s wish list.   This was not heartbreaking news.  I love what I do and I am doing it in one of the best places to do it.  It was an interesting exercise that confirmed exactly what I thought: I am in the right place for right now.

It was also an interesting exercise because it reminded me what it’s like to be a candidate: putting it out there, waiting for some feedback, trying to continue focusing on other things while you wait to see if you are wanted.  An excellent lesson indeed.

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Canada 150 – Big Grin

We are approaching one of the best long weekends of them all – Canada 150.  Everyone will be celebrating in some way: barbecues or fireworks or family reunion picnics.  What ever plans you have, you are certain to run in to people you have not seen for a while or people you just don’t know.

This represents a great opportunity to network and get yourself out there.  I am not saying you will have a new job on Tuesday but you might make some valuable connections that you can develop over the summer.

Here is the problem:  everyone I know (including me) is walking around complaining about how tired they are and very busy they have been.  That is not the best frame of mind to be in if you want to maximize your opportunities.

Of course you are tired.  Of course you are too busy.  Even retired people are too busy.  Get over it.

Take a few minutes to identify a few good things that have happened over the last quarter.  They might be work things or family events – it doesn’t really matter as long as they are positive.  Maybe you finished a big project or got a promotion.  Maybe your kid graduated from something or you got engaged.

Park these thoughts in your brain, near the front.  When you meet someone at the grocery store on Sunday and they ask how you are, these are the things to share.  Not “same old, same old” or “I have been soooo busy”.  These are lame responses and you come across as too lazy to thing of something meaningful to say.  That does not beget new connections or relationships.  It makes you look as interesting as a dish mop.

You are better than that.  So tomorrow, when you are wrapping up loose ends before the long weekend, think about your positives.  Jot them down on a Post-It note or your hand.  Be ready to smile and throw some good energy at people.  You might be surprised at what happens.

Happy Birthday Canada!!

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The Value of the Interview Pause

We are all nervous when we go to interviews.  It never changes. It does not matter how senior you are or how many interivews you have done, you will still have sweaty palms and sweaty armpits.

We also, in that situation, tend to speak just a little too quickly.  We get caught up answering in a gush of words that were probably not the best choice.  Our answers are either too short or too long.  When you can no longer remember the question, you have gone on too long.

One of the ways to combat this is to take a pause before you start to answer a question.  Not a long pause, just a short breath in while you compose your thoughts.  It will feel like you are taking an hour but only to you.  The interviewer is processing pretty quickly too.  A breath might be a welcome pause.

This will allow to quickly flip through the possible answers and examples in your head to select the best one and then lay it out clearly.

Once you do this the first time and see how it feels, it will be easier to continue it through the interview process.

You can even practice at home before you get to the interview.  When someone asks where the measuring spoons are, you can take a small pause and then answer.  What’s neat about this approach, is that sometimes the person answers their own question while you are pausing.  This is especially helpful with teenagers.

If you have not been in an interview situation for a while, it is worth the time to practice with someone you know.  Pick a few examples of your successes, resilience, empathy and anything else that might be relevant and then sit down with a friend and try out the stories.  Make sure you insert the pause before you begin each story.  It will be worth your time.  You will feel way more confident going to meet the next hiring manager and that’s a big part of success.

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Are we Exclusive? Managing your LinkedIn Invitations

I was talking about LinkedIn with a group of people on Monday evening.  One of the big questions that came up about invitations. When someone invites you to connect, should you accept?

Some people only accept invites from people they know. Others, like people in my profession, accept most, if not all, invitations.

The answer lies in why you got on LinkedIn in the first place. Is it a place to hang out with former colleagues?  A place to develop your consulting reputation?  Maybe you want to grow your community of influence, so that when you throw a highly pithy comment out there, you get lots of feedback.  It is a pretty cool feeling to get lots of positive comments when you throw something out into the webosphere.

Most of us keep our profiles current and polished so we can get noticed. We want prospective employers or clients to find us and look us over. The way we get “found” is by broadening our networks either by sending invitations,  accepting invitations or joining groups.

Here’s a way to manage the invites that seem to collect on your profile:

  • Take a look at your invites once every week or so. You don’t have to do it right away. They will not evaporate.
  • If you don’t know the person, click on their name. Maybe their profile will jog your memory and you will realize that they know a lot of the same people you do.
  • Decide if you want to accept, ignore or procrastinate a little longer.

It is up to you to decide if your network is going small and exclusive or open and diverse but when review invitations,  think about how you want to be treated. When you reach out to someone, you want to be acknowledged, right?

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