Everyone has experienced making a bad decision, or a performance shortfall. You can never redo what has passed, but you can recover to a better place than where you were before. How?
Most importantly, if your attitude or behavior becomes an impediment, it will dramatically affect your future. As the saying goes, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging”. That doesn’t mean you stop trying, just that you must turn your attention to positive strategies to move you in the right direction: Upward.
I have been coaching professionals for over 20 years. Some didn’t fit the culture, others needed to move up the ladder to the next level, and some were just in the wrong industry or job. I have also worked with entrepreneurs starting a new business. I have observed stark differences between those who took adversity and converted it into a long-term success. My observations:
- Having a business idea rejected is nothing new. What’s different is the belief you have in your idea and the persistence in making it work. Most successful people I know have kept moving forward, figured out the barriers and made the changes that made the difference.
- Some folk are just too impatient. I seldom see a business become an instant success, or someone new on the job become an outstanding performer overnight. If you have a terrific idea that no one is listening to, take a small project to demonstrate. Sometimes seeing is believing.
- On the other hand, some folk are just too slow. There are some things you can’t procrastinate. When you get a bad performance review, when you make a bad decision, or when you’re terminated, if you don’t get energized with an action plan, you lose. When you wait too long to find answers to questions that are career or life changing, the chances are they will be.
- Seek out the people who can help you. Some unfortunates want to hide and try to recover all by themselves. Bad decision. The best help you can get are from those who know you well, and know what you are capable of achieving. Network your contacts to help them understand your situation, the “why”, and what you need in order to find a solution.
- When a bad decision is made, unmake it as quickly and smoothly as possible. Hoping a bad decision will go away doesn’t work well. Make it better by figuring out how to reverse or modify the situation to give you time to make the right decision.
You may ask, “How do you know so much that you can give advice to me?”. I have experienced each of the issues of rejection (starting my own business), bad decisions (joining a company that was incompatible) and leaving 2 companies (a mismatched merger and a paranoid boss). After each disaster I came out stronger and at a higher level than before. I only give these words of encouragement because they work.
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Open-ended questions are dreaded and can be a potential trap for the unprepared. Answers to open-ended questions can sometimes accelerate your candidacy if your responses are succinct and targeted. Your answers can also sink your chances if you don’t demonstrate that your communications skills are up to the standards of the hiring manager. Yes or no questions are easier, but you can’t market yourself with one-word answers.
Questions like, “Tell me about yourself”, or “What are your major accomplishments?” are the most difficult to answer unless you’ve thought about the best answers beforehand. You don’t want to respond awkwardly or mumble something incoherently. Hiring managers want to hear a “story” that is clear, succinct, that flows in an understandable and logical way, and hopefully includes transferable skills and experiences that relate to the job to be filled.
Here are some ways to approach answers to the dreaded open-ended questions:
- HIGHLIGHT YOUR PROFESSIONAL CREDENTIALS – Keep the personal information personal by stating, “Professionally I received my degree in xxxxx, from xxxx and was recruited by xxxx to expand sales in a new product”. Then brief the interviewer with each major step of your career with a 10 second synopsis. Why so short a brief? Because this information is already on your resume. The question is really designed to see how you present the information in a compact, complete, and clear way.
- FOCUS ON THE KEY ELEMENTS – The first 3 to 5 items on the position description are the most critical.Describe comparable results from your past experiences. Show that you can solve the issues that are important to the hiring manager. If you don’t know how you can provide value to the organization, it will show.
- SHOW THAT YOU CAN DO THE JOB – Discuss potential solutions to short-term issues. Highlight potential alternatives to longer-term strategies. Identify actions you took to achieve high performance. Your results should speak for itself.
- GIVE SPECIFIC AND MEASURABLE EXAMPLES – Use numbers if you can: Dollars, percent, ratios or other measurements tell them that you can do the job. Nothing can “sell” your candidacy better than giving them examples of your results somewhere else. If you have successfully done it before, the chances are you can do it again, only better.
- DON’T GET SIDE-TRACKED – The interviewer is not only listening to what you say, but how you say it. A rambling story demonstrates an inability to organize your thoughts into a coherent sequence. Think in bullet point terms while communicating in a logical step-by-step way.
However, be sure to answer all questions in a polite and personable way. Don’t answer like a robot. Show your keen interest in the job when answering the questions. The hiring manager is assessing not only your skills and experience, but also your compatibility and potential relationship with the working group already in place.
Open-ended questions can be stressful, but with planning and preparation you can become a finalist candidate.
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Have you ever applied for a job and been asked for a written outline as to how you would approach a specific problem? There’s nothing more valuable than your creative ideas, strategies and experiences in solving problems that impede an organization. But, why would you freely give that information away to an interviewer in writing? You may not get the job for which your interviewing, and the organization may give your written plan to an internal staff person to implement. Unethical? You bet? Unlikely? Unfortunately no.
While the company’s philosophy and operating values may talk about high ethical standards, that doesn’t mean that a recruiter or even a hiring manager won’t ask you to prepare an alternative solution to a problem they have under the guise of helping them to make a hiring decision. You have to determine whether they are truthful and trustworthy, or it’s a sham in order to collect different alternatives from candidates to create a strategy for the organization to implement. Does it happen all the time? No. Does it happen more than it should? Yes.
If a recruiter asks you to come in for an interview and gives you an assignment to create an alternative approach to an organizational issue, ask some key questions first:
- Ask if your work will be shared, published or communicated in any way outside of the hiring process
- Ask how your information will be used and request the answer in writing. The reaction of the interviewer will tell you all you need to know.
Here are some ways around the situation:
- Provide information about a similar issue in another organization and the results you have achieved, but not the “how” of the alternative or approach to the solution
- Is the request for information beyond the content of the job description? Sometimes information is sought that has nothing to do with your being a candidate: Competitive information, organizational charts, names of peers or subordinates, or strategic initiatives for change in your current job.
- Check out Glassdoor or other on-line websites for other candidate experiences. If others have been burned they will speak out
- Be suspicious of emails or on-line requests for your resume along with a requested write- up as to how you solved a particular problem
- Never give your home address, social security number or any other identification other than your name, telephone number, city, state and email address. Protect your privacy.
- The most vulnerable are those candidates that are hard pressed to find a job, as they may give information beyond their comfort zone. Trust your instincts.
You need to be extra careful legally when asked for copies of original documents or a work product from a project where you were involved. Your unique abilities and experiences are in demand. Provide an interviewer with a definition of the issues you confronted, some alternatives you looked at, and the results you achieved, but not the detail of “how” you accomplish those results. That’s your differentiator from everyone else. It makes you the best candidate.
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When you’re interviewing, what are you looking for in a boss and how do you find answers? What people say is secondary to how they behave. Actions speak louder than words. Some actions you can see and experience during an interview. Other feedback is available from current or past employees, by chat sites, or on-line company websites.
Here’s a list of behaviors that most employees are looking for in a boss:
- GIVES CLEAR DIRECTIONS AND EXPECTATIONS– One of the most important indicators of an effective boss is clear guidelines and knowledge of what your results should look like. In that way you have a clear picture of expectations. When you have the correct information your job is much easier. When a boss is ambiguous about what is needed or what the end result should look like, your performance will be problematic.
- PROVIDES OPPORTUNITY TO GROW – If you’re not learning new things and growing in responsibilities, then you’re stalling out. Once you’ve learned and mastered the job you were initially hired to do, will you be given additional tasks? Ask what’s the plan once you’ve proven high performance in your current job. Is there a career plan for you? Will you receive training and development for potential promotion? How many subordinates have moved on to higher levels of responsibilities over what time period?
- IS POSITIVE AND SUPPORTIVE TOWARD OTHERS – Positive reinforcement is a powerful device. It can encourage higher performance and reinforce team effort. Look for it while interviewing. Praise can be contagious. Look for the boss who is upbeat, positive, optimistic, and encouraging, has high standards and provides support when needed. On the other hand, put-downs or negative humor can demoralize an individual or work group. Make sure you are compatible with the style of management of your potential boss.
- IS RECEPTIVE AND ASKS FOR FEEDBACK – The hiring boss who constantly talks, dominates the conversation and seldom if ever asks for your view is self-absorbed with his needs and doesn’t consider your contribution. Some employees may not like to be asked their opinion or views, but usually they find themselves with questions they should have asked. Good bosses want feedback and intelligent questions. Many times they find information or get alternative solutions that will achieve greater results.
- IS RECEPTIVE TO OTHER IDEAS – My experience is that employees who perform a job day-to-day can usually identify ways to increase productivity, improve performance or reduce costs. But they usually need to be asked. Those who are afraid of their boss usually don’t volunteer ideas.
- LISTENS TO YOU FULLY – The best bosses are able to listen, really listen to you, whether it’s an issue that is preventing results, or a concern, or a helpful idea you have. A boss who doesn’t listen is restricted by what he already knows. It’s almost impossible to learn while you’re talking.
You are interviewing the company and your future boss just like they are interviewing you.
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We all have good days and bad days. When the balance gets tilted too much toward the bad days, it’s time to evaluate where you are and why. There are visible signs that give you indicators of when you need to assess your job, career and direction. Here are some of them:
- You’ve stopped learning. We all have the capacity to grow and expand our knowledge, skills and abilities. When that capacity is blocked, we flat-line in our jobs and our ability to perform at a higher level.
- It’s harder to get up in the morning. Is it the work itself or is it your attitude toward the work you are doing? Attitude towards your job, boss, work or the people around you all affect your outlook, and many times, your energy level.
- It’s difficult to be excited about work. Repetitive work can be a drag. Is it a project that will change over time, or is work going to be the same boring stuff endlessly?
- Something has happened within the company itself: A change of leadership near the top of the organization, a new boss, a merger, or an economic downturn of the company’s results. These events can directly affect you. You’re out of step with the main stream.
- There’s nowhere for you to go. You see no movement for you to progress with the company. Your career ladder upward is blocked or the organization is restructuring downward, and you see yourself as vulnerable.
- Your rewards don’t match your contributions. You’re not being paid equal to your value or contribution, so you consider downscaling your performing. You may see others moving ahead who don’t deserve it or non-performance rewarded.
- You picture yourself somewhere else doing something else. You know you can contribute more at a higher level of responsibility, but can’t see how in your current position. You are frustrated with your job, boss or the future.
When your performance or attitude flat-lines, you are in fact, falling behind your career goal and peers. Catching up with your career goal become harder the longer you are in a stall. Sometimes a few days off or a vacation will help. But when you come back, if you’re not eager to get back to work, then something is wrong.
So what do you do? Whose to fault and what actions do you take? My experience is the fault is evenly shared between you and your employer. You should be taking new courses, add technological/computer skills, use on-line resources to improve and expand your knowledge, skills and abilities. Your employer should be providing you with opportunities to grow through internal training and development. Your boss should be providing you with expanding responsibilities commensurate with your contributions.
Having a discussion with your boss about a change or added responsibilities may help. If not, consider a more dramatic step.
Work should be fun, or at least enjoyable and satisfying. If not, you may need a major change.
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