How To Ace Job Interviews: 5 Secrets Backed By Research

Image Source: Shutterstock
Image Source: Shutterstock

It’s the moment of truth in any career change: the job interview. You sweat. You prepare and hope for the best. But it usually feels like a black box.

That’s going to change with this article. Based on the excellent research from, “Pedigree: how elite students get elite jobs,” by Lauren A. Rivera, we’re going to break down job interviews.

During her PhD research at Harvard University, Rivera “went undercover” to find out how elite firms (high end law firms, consulting firms and financial firms) hire new staff from America’s top universities.

Do these insights apply to all hiring situations? I would say yes based on my personal experience and research. Of course, there are some nuances specific to the firms Rivera studied (e.g. the case interview in the management consulting industry).

Reporting From The Front Lines Of The Elite Job Market

In her excellent book, Rivera reports on how individuals at elite companies actually think and behave in hiring and recruiting. How? Rivera interviewed numerous profiessionals and personally worked in these firms during recruiting season. This book is the most detailed and robust explanation of how job interviews and hiring work in the wild I have ever seen.

Rivera describes the job interview as a four act process:

  1. Icebreaking chitchat
  2. Autobiographical Narrative
  3. Technical Tests
  4. A Question and Answer Period

You will learn how each step works in this article because knowing is half the battle!

Secret 1: Your Interviewer Probably Has No Training

Hiring decisions matter, especially in professional services firms that sell high priced labor. So you would expect plenty of time and attention would be applied to training interviewers? Rivera’s research on professionals at top firms finds the opposite:

Sociological accounts of hiring often portray hiring decisions – including interview evaluations – as being conducted by professionalized HR staff who have in-depth knowledge of interviewing techniques…However, in the firms that I studied, interviews were conducted almost exclusively by full-time revenue generating professionals who balanced recruitment responsibilities with full-time client responsibilities. Interviewing was a secondary responsibility for them… Because firms gave evaluators little guidance regarding what merit is and how they should measure it, identifying talent was largely up to each interviewer’s judgement.

That means that if you and friend both interview at the same company, you can expect quite different results. How so? Rivera founds that some interviewers rated candidates highly on “fit” if they happen to share the same hobbies (e.g. SCUBA diving or Varsity athletics).

Secret 2: Icebreaking Chitchat Matters More Than You Think In Job Interviews

As you walk down the hallway with the interviewer, the job interview is underway. How you talk about the news, the weather and more all factor into the impression you make. Here is how Rivera reports on this phase of the job interview:

The interviewers I spoke with often began by asking job candidates which they liked to do in their spare time. Yet this conversation was not “cheap talk”, tangential to the the evaluation process. It was the primary basis on which interviewers judged the key criterion of cultural fit… Firms, in essence, sought surface-level demographic diversity in applicant pools but deep-level cultural homogeneity in new hires.

Surprisingly, certain hobbies and interests were considered more “worthy” than others in this process. Having time and resources to indulge in fun is not always possible. Rivera points out: “Concerted cultivation of leisure is a hallmark of the more economically privileged social ranks.” The types of activities that evaluators participated in and valued were also those most commonly associated with white, upper-middle class culture.” If you leisure activities are expensive (e.g. golf), that is more likely to earn your bonus points. However, good leisure activities are not the only factor; your personal story matters as well.

Secret 3: Telling Your Story Is More Than “Just The Facts”

What comes to mind when someone asks you the typical job interview question, “Tell me about yourself.”

At first glance, this appears to be a highly personal question that could be answered in many different ways. In fact, there is right way to answer and a wrong way to answer. Rivera observes the key elements in crafting and delivering an effective autobiographical narrative in job interviews:

A strong narrative had two distinct but interrelated components: the applicant’s past experiences and his or her future trajectory. Interviewers used stories of the past to assess a candidate’s level of “drive,” an evaluative criterion that combined ambition and a strong work ethic. They used stories of the future to assess a candidates level of “interest” in a career with their firms.

Simply thinking about your relevant past experiences and plans for the future is a starting point but not enough. However, Rivera reports that HOW that narrative is delivered makes a big difference.

Not all candidates’ stories were equally successful in eliciting high marks on drive from evaluators. This is not surprising but it is problematic. It means that artful storytelling about one’s experiences is awarded greater weight than one’s actual experiences (enumerated on resumes) in job interviews.

What are the key elements of a successful story in a job interview?

  • A series of decisions in a coherent, linear account
  • an emotionally, exciting narrative
  • a portrait of experiences similar to the interviewer OR a dramatic/unique story line.

Rivera goes on to point out that many job applicants struggle to excel with these expectations. For example, what if your choices reflected surprise opportunities, unexpected tragedies or other limitations? Based on my reading, it looks like candidates are likely to be rejected if their narrative contains anything other than a series of heroic triumphs.

Secret 4: Getting It Right On Technical Tests Still Matters

In some job interviews, you will be tested on technical skills. Years ago, I remember completing a series of tests (including written essays!) for a position in Canada’s civil service. I passed all the tests but did not succeed in the French language test. That level of evaluation in technical skills appears rare for the firms that Rivera studied.

Why?

There are two reasons for this lack of concern about technical skills. First, recruiters assume that elite colleges and universities, by virtue of their challenging admissions processes, have already selected highly intelligent students. Second, elite professional services firms are noted for their extensive training programs (i.e. you are not expected to be economically productive right away) so new hires are not expected to have job skills.

Let’s take an example from the consulting job interviews which stress the importance of case interviews:

Although case interviews incorporate the most systematic tests of job-relevant skills across the industries that I studied, their purpose was not to screen for previously acquired job-specific knowledge but rather to identify candidates who displayed a generalized knack for problem solving.

The discussion goes on to provide commentary on how interviewers perceived case interview answers. An effective answer has an explicit structure (e.g. 3-5 bullet points summarizing the main issues was considered ideal). One unexpected surprise? Candidates were sometimes rated favorably in this section based on structure and logic, even if there were errors in the detail of the analysis. In contrast, less organized answers – even with perfect math – often led to lower ratings.

Secret 5: Navigating The Question And Answer Period

Demonstrating interest in a company and profession help in job interviews. Rivera’s research found the following about asking questions during job interviews:

Like other acts of the interview, the Q&A was a ritualized interaction and good performance within it followed a particular script. First, the interviewee has to ask the interviewer something… Interviewers interpreted having questions about the firm or the job as evidence of genuine interests in the firm and an absence of queries as a sign that the candidate didn’t really want the job.

Asking questions in a job interview serves two purposes: obtaining information AND demonstrating your interest in the role. However, some questions are better than others. Here are some of Rivera’s further observations on that front:

A wrong question, though, probed the time commitments entailed by these jobs. For example, asking too many questions about travel demands or working hours made interviewers question applicants’ commitment to the job or the firm and their underlying personal character… Several female evaluators, mostly lawyers, reported having particularly negative reactions to applicants – primarily other women – who asked about work-life balance or family leave policies during the interview.

There’s nothing wrong with being curious about hours, travel and related points. These questions to be discovered through networking rather than a job interview. Ultimately, the Q&A portion is helpful but it does not overcome other parts of the interview. The one exception? Asking “bad” questions (e.g. about hours, benefits, pay) during a job interview tends to produce a negative reaction.

Question of The Day (Write Your Answer In A Comment!)

What have you learned to improve your job interview skills over time?

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru: Interview With Joe Berlinger

Tony Robbins I Am Not Your Guru Poster

Tony Robbins is a larger than life figure who has been leading seminars around the world for decades. Some people remember Robbins from his TV infomercials. Others know about him through books like “Money: Master The Game” and “Awaken The Giant Within.” Outside of his business and writing, Robbins is also an active in charities through his foundation – the Basket Brigade has provided assistance to millions of people over the past few decades.

I had the opportunity to see “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru” film at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto earlier in 2016. I have read two of his books (mentioned above) and found them useful. I’ve never attended one of his seminars, so Joe’s film gave an inside look at Robbins and his approach to delivering seminars which was interesting.

What can we learn about Robbins from Berlinger’s film? In the social media age, the film underscores the tremendous value of participating in live events in order to achieve personal and professional growth. Second, I was impressed by the event management skills Robbins brings to bear (notwithstanding the controversy over the recent Dallas event: Tony Robbins event attendees burned after walking on hot coals ) on these events. It is no small feat to engage and inspire several thousand people during a multi-day event yet Robbins has done it over and over again.

Q&A Interview With Director Joe Berlinger

1. Why did you decide to make this documentary?

In 2012, I met Tony Robbins at a social event. He invited me to attend one of his events as his guest. I was not deeply familiar with his work prior to attending. I found it to be a powerful emotional experience that had a cinematic quality.

In 2014, I started the process of seeking permission to make a film. Robbins had some questions related to maintaining a high quality experience for attendees and some other points.

Ultimately, I was able to convince him of my approach through persistence and demonstrating my approach. After viewing my previous documentaries, Robbins understood that I could thoughtfully present complex topics in documentary form. I was eventually able to persuade him through persistence and my track record.

[Note: Previously, Berlinger’s body of work includes documentaries concerning FBI corruption [Whitey: United States of America V. James J. Bulger], oil politics [Crude] and economic issues ([We The Economy: The Street].]

2. Which event did you film?

In 2014, we filmed the “Date with Destiny” seminar in Florida. It is a six day event that covers a variety of topics.

[Note: The Tony Robbins website describes the event in these terms: “At Date With Destiny you won’t simply discover who you are — you will decide and create your own life-changing experience. Connect with your ultimate purpose and ignite your passion to achieve the ultimate vision of your life, career, finances, health and relationships. ”

3. In addition to the seminar, the film shows Tony Robbins going through his daily routine. What are some of the insights you observed?

I noticed that Robbins takes physical health and exercise very seriously. It is a key reason that he is able to deliver multi-hour seminar experiences day after day. Beyond exercise, Robbins also practices daily meditation.

4. Our society is interested in gurus and thought leaders. Yet, the sub-title to the film is “I Am Not Your Guru.” What does that mean?

Early on, I heard Tony himself say, “I am not your guru.” Instead, his approach is to give you a set of tools understand what you want and then go for it. That could be business success, improving a relationship or health. Ultimately, the best approach is to use his teaching to lead the life you want.

5. Several individuals are profiled in the film who received interventions and other assistance from Tony Robbins and the event generally. What was the outcome?

Robbins asked me to follow up with the individuals highlighted in the event a year after filming. That was easy to do because film production takes considerable time. The outcomes look great so far. Several people have transformed their careers and moved into the coaching field. Another person had the opportunity to reconnect with a parent. A couple profiled in the film had an improved relationship.

6. What was the film concept you took with this film?

I wanted to use a concert film concept here. Previously, I made a documentary about Metallica (Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster) so I had some experience with that approach. The individual stories of transformation had a cinematic quality. I was also struck by the spirit of camaraderie among the attendees.

7. How do you compare Tony Robbins to others in his industry?

I did not take a comparative approach in this film. I don’t go to many seminars so it is difficult to comment on this point. Overall, I think Tony Robbins is the real deal and he’s on a mission to help people. There are some people that regard Tony Robbins fans as cult members – I disagree with that view.

8. Where can readers go for more information about the film?

The film is now available via Netflix. For additional information including photos and trailers, please visit the Joe Berlinger Films website.

Reviews and Article About Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru

Curious to know what other reviewers thought about the film? I have collected several reviews below for your reading pleasure.

Question Of The Day

What was the most helpful seminar or conference you have attended and why?

Master Ego Depletion To Keep Out of Trouble At Work

Tired Person

In project management, you are used to managing resources. You probably look at your calendar and project schedule dozens of times each day.

You may also have a fine tuned approach to managing your project’s financials. Monitoring and controlling these resources is fundamental to keeping your project running smoothly. What about your own mental energy?

If you fail to manage your mental resources effectively, you are likely to make dumb mistakes and erode your credibility.

What Is Ego Depletion?

Reading, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman was the inspiration for this article. I was fascinated to learn about psychological research that explores the human ability to exert deliberate thinking. As Kahneman explains:

“Baumeister’s group has repeatedly found that an effort of will or self-control is tiring; if you have had to force yourself to do something, you are less willing or less able to exert self-control when the next challenge comes around. The phenomenon has been named ego depletion.”

I think of self-control as a finite, renewable resource. Over the course of a day, there is a certain amount of mental energy available and various activities reduce it (e.g. resisting chocolate, suppressing negative comments, or staying calm under pressure). Result? The typical person in a 9-5 work schedule will be less effective at 4pm compared to 10am due to ego depletion.

How To Keep Out Of Trouble At Work With Ego Depletion

Working with people, navigating complexity and developing creative solutions will tend to drain your energy. Here are a few ways that individuals and managers can avoid disaster by managing their mental energy.

Know Thy Energy

Many people have their best mental energy level in the first few hours after they wake up. Not sure if that pattern fits you? Track your energy levels over a few days. Proxy measures for mental energy include: time to solve problems (i.e. you will generally take longer if you are tired) and patterns for negative outbursts (i.e. if you are consistently yelling at people after 4pm but never before 12pm, then you have a pattern on your hands).

Resource: Read The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal By Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz for more on energy management.

Play To Your Energy Strengths

Once you understand your energy strengths, arrange your work accordingly. In my experience, creative work and problem solving are much more difficult when I’m tired. That’s why I aim to get those activities done earlier in the day. Of course, few people have 100% control over that work schedule – I’m not telling you to ignore the VP’s urgent request. Instead, manage what you can and think carefully about when you plan your own work.

Resource: Horstman’s Noon Rule of Scheduling. A great podcast that explains the value of completing high value tasks in the morning.

Use Energy Restoration Strategies

What about those situations when you need to perform even though your energy is low? What can you do in those situations? Kahneman describes an experiment where people consumed glucose (sugar) and found that it can help. The sugar strategy does provide a short term boost with a longer term cost. What are alternatives to boost your energy?

  • 20-30 Minute Nap. A number of companies provide nap rooms and facilities so staff can recharge. If available, look into this option. For more insight, check out this Scientific America article: Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime.
  • Remind yourself of the why. Working through the details matters. When your energy and motivation decline, it’s time for a different approach. In those cases, I suggest looking into the big picture why. For example, if the project is focused on cost savings remind yourself why that matters (e.g. “If we achieve $1 million in cost savings with this project through process improvement, then we can avoid layoffs). For more on this topic, read Start With Why by Simon Sinek.

Use A “Brain Dead List” For Low Energy Moments

I heard about this concept via one of David Allen’s staff. He once mentioned that one of his staff keeps a specialized to-do list called “brain dead.” This task list has activities that he can easily perform even when he has low energy and motivation. Sure, we all like to scan that Facebook newsfeed (or email inbox) over and over again but perhaps you could do something else instead? Examples of brain dead tasks vary depending on your strengths. It could be organizing email or cleaning up your work space. It’s any task that comes easily to you and takes little time to accomplish.

Avoid Big Decisions Right Before Lunch: A Cautionary Tale For Managers and Leaders

Do you manage people? Take note of the experience of a group of Israeli judges and their decision making patterns. The implication is important. Even highly trained and experienced professionals, who are handling life changing decisions each day, appear to be significantly influenced by breaks and meals. Here is the Economist’s take on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, “I think it’s time we broke for lunch…“:

The team found that, at the start of the day, the judges granted around two-thirds of the applications before them. As the hours passed, that number fell sharply (see chart), eventually reaching zero. But clemency returned after each of two daily breaks, during which the judges retired for food. The approval rate shot back up to near its original value, before falling again as the day wore on… In truth, these results, though disturbing, are unsurprising. Judges may be trained to confine themselves to the legally relevant facts before them. But they are also human, and thus subject to all sorts of cognitive biases which can muddy their judgment.

Rationality is important. We also need to remember that reason and logic occur in a human context. If you’re hungry, tired or drained from difficult work, your reasoning capabilities will underperform.

Question of the Day:

What strategies do you use boost mental energy when you have to complete an urgent project?

Insider Perspectives on Recruiting With Ronald Yoon

Ronald Yoon Photo

How does recruiting work? What do recruiters want?

These are some of the thoughts that prompted me to interview Ronald Yoon, Technical Recruiter at EXPERIS ManpowerGroup. I met Ronald earlier this year at a Project Management Institute committee here in Toronto. If you like this article, please write a comment. I have plans for similar interview articles in the future.

Introduction

1. How did you get into the recruiting field?

Early in life, I lived in a variety of places – Montreal, Vancouver and Korea. By regularly moving to new places, I found myself regularly enjoying the process of meeting new people. In university, I studied economics and employment relations at the University of Toronto. During my studies there, I had the opportunity to work for one of the  major recruiting firm. My early interest in meeting a variety of people, my university studies and witnessing potential at the major recruiting firm have led me to the industry.

2. What are some of the misconceptions that people have about recruiters?

Some people have had negative experiences with recruiters. Those unfortunate incidents lead some people to stereotype all recruiters in a negative way. Like any profession, there are good and bad professionals.

3. What does a typical day at the office look like for you?

The details of each day vary. Generally, certain activities occur each day. There are conversations with clients in Finance, Telecom, health sector, Government, IT and engineering. I meet with candidates in person and by phone. I also put time into sourcing and research to find new candidates. I read articles that is related to new technologies and better project management methodologies.  I also put some time into participating in professional organizations like the Southern Ontario Chapter of the Project Management Institute.

The Recruiting Job Market

4. What are your observations on market demand for permanent full time vs contract roles in 2016?

In the Greater Toronto Area, I have noticed an increase in the number of permanent roles in 2016 compared to a year ago. However, there are company specific dynamics to consider. Some companies focus their recruiting on contract roles while others have a preference for full time roles.

5. Where have you seen the greatest increase in talent over the past 12 months for staff?

With my area of work, I see a few areas of increased demand. Candidates who are knowledgeable in DevOps, agile (both developers and project managers) and big data are in demand. There is also steady demand for project managers in a variety of roles. Over time, I have also observed certain seasonal patterns. For example, summer and Christmas time tend to be slow periods in recruiting. I have also found that some clients tend to recruit more project managers at the start of their fiscal years when new projects are funded.

6. Where have you seen the greatest decline in demand for talent over the past 12 months?

Technological change is a major factor.  It is easy to notice which areas and technologies are in demand because there are more requests about it. In contrast, noticing a decline is more difficult. In general, older technologies naturally gain less attention in the IT market and Finance which means declining in demand.

7. Do you see contract roles convert to full time roles?

I have seen some cases of contract roles converting to full time roles. There is no clear pattern to it though. Employers and candidates both have to consider cultural fit in these decisions.

Specific issues for candidates to consider in cultural fit include: management style (i.e. how much are you supported), attitudes to innovation (i.e. is innovation a priority for company) and communication style.

For example, companies have preference on different personalities whether it’s an introverted professional or an extroverted professionals. It really depends on the type of business they are in. Also, it will depend on the timing of the project (i.e. planning, execution, project conclusion) and what they are being asked to accomplish. 

What Candidates Need To Know

8. What do clients need to know about résumés? What oversights do you see on a recurring basis?

The most common mistake I see on résumé concerns dates. Many candidates do not provide full date information – month and year are needed for each item listed in your work history. If you have a gap in your work history, address it. Leaving an unexplained gap in your work history means hiring managers will be unclear so might have to come back to you for the explanation or have a question mark in their decision to bring you in for an interview. Any gap longer than 3 months should be explained.

Some candidates omit critical details about their work accomplishments because they are trying to be brief. For project managers, I would like to see details on the project: how many project team members did you manage, what was the budget, what technology was involved and related points. These details are needed for managers to understand your capabilities.

9. How do you suggest candidates build an effective win/win relationship with you and your peers?

Readers are welcome to contact me by email at ronald.yoon@experis.com In addition, I’m an active volunteer at the Southern Ontario Chapter of the Project Management Institute. I welcome having conversations with candidates even if they are not searching for a new role. It’s enjoyable to learn about people and their careers.

10. What is your evaluation of the certifications and certificates? When do these add value?

In project management, the PMP is the most important certification. Other popular certifications of value include the ITIL and Scrum Master certifications. Many clients like project managers with a technical background because it suggests the ability to communicate well with developers.

11. How can candidates best respond to recruiter questions about salary and compensation expectations?

Have a firm number and stick to it. Constantly changing your expectations in this area creates frustration for you in the long run since your rates are over-exposed in the market. On the other hand, there are situations where you can make the case for higher compensation. If you have recently acquired new skills by completing a challenging project or earning a certification, you can build a case.

My observation is that hourly rates for project managers range from  $50 per hour to $120 per hour, sometimes even higher. The level of responsibility and work experience are factors in play.

12. Any other tips you would like to share with candidates?

The project management job market is alive and well. As long as you keep learning and stay confident, you are likely to find a role. I think some professionals fail to appreciate the importance of confidence.

Your confidence has to convince  a company to give you a large budget, a challenge to achieve and support. Know what type of management style each company prefers. Research companies by talking to your network to study what type of projects you are going into and understand the hiring manager’s career. Finally, always have detailed project examples to share.

 

30 Networking Resources To Grow Your Career

Networking Coffee Meetings

The art of networking is something that readers ask me about all the time. Usually, the question comes in the form of “how do I network to find a job?” That’s just one aspect of networking. In this article, you will find a wealth of material to aid you in building networking skills.

Networking Books

Get started with these networking books. I have read (or I’m working through!) all of these titles and have learned from all of them.

1. Networking With the Affluent by Thomas Stanley

After seeing this book recommended by several authors, I started to read it. It is excellent even though it was published in the 1990s. The book is directed at sales and marketing professionals yet it can be used by others if you apply some imagination. This book’s unique insight is to propose ways to add value to your network. One example  – enhance revenue! Before trying to sell someone, first provide introductions to customers for them. What an excellent idea.

2. Never Eat Alone, Expanded and Updated: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz

If you are only willing to read one book on networking, it has to be this book. Informed by Ferrazi’s experience at Deloitte, Starwood Hotels and other research, there is much to be learned here. A great insight from the book is to develop a relationship action plan in order to meet your goals. I have read the book in print and listened to it twice via Audible.com. It’s that good.

3. Who’s Got Your Back: The Breakthrough Program to Build Deep, Trusting Relationships That Create Success–and Won’t Let You Fail by Keith Ferrazi

Do you have a small group of friends who can give you advice, support and accountability? That’s the central premise of this book. The book goes into practical suggestions on how to organize such a group and make it work effectively. After you start to master the basics of networking, “Who’s Got Your Back” will take you to the next level.

4. Little Black Book of Connections: 6.5 Assets for Networking Your Way to Rich Relationships by Jeffrey Gitomer 

Aimed at sales professionals, this short book is a fun approach to networking. There are lists, bullet points and other devices to make the book for easy reading. If you are looking for a quick introduction to networking, this is helpful. If you are not involved in sales, you will have more work to translate this book to your context.

5. How to Work a Room, 25th Anniversary Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections–In Person and Online by Susan RoAne

I discovered this book a few months ago when the author appeared on a podcast interview. What a great find. Making connections in person at events is one of the best ways to build your network. This book is filled with encouragement and great tips. You will find tips on questions to ask, conversation ideas and examples showing the power of events.

Networking Articles: Scripts, Cold Emails and Success Stories

Use the following articles to address specific networking problems. In some cases, all you need is a script. These resources will point you in the right direction.

6. All You Need to Know About High Level Networking: An Interview With Geoff Woods

Published earlier this year, Geoff Woods has reinvented his career from medical device sales to entrepreneurship. How? He changed his peer group, he went to the right conferences and started a podcast. What’s the key lesson I learned from him? Check out the answer to question 5.

7. Ramit’s definitive guide to building your network (with scripts)

Author of “I Will Teach You To Be Rich,” Ramit Sethi offers actual scripts you can use in networking. Not sure what to write in an email to that impressive person? Start with these scripts. A key insight from this material? If you receive a piece of advice from a mentor or VIP, put it into action! Then send the person a follow up message describing your experience. That’s what Ramit calls “closing the loop.” Michael Ellsberg advocates for a similar practice in his book “The Education of Millionaires.”

8. 6 Steps to Writing Great Cold Emails

Cold calls have a bad reputation. Are “cold emails” any better? It all depends on your approach including your research and how much you think about the other person. In this article, entrepreneur Noah Kagan describes a cold email that he received that worked on him. Key insight here: “make it easy to say yes.” Ask a simple question or make a basic request – that’s how you start the connection.

9. How to Get Busy Influencers to Share Your Stuff

Some people are more influential than others. That’s why so many authors used to work hard to get onto Oprah’s TV show. Getting an endorsement from one influential person is a powerful way to advance your career or your company. How do you actually do that? In this article, author Tim Ferriss deconstructs a successful email pitch he received. Similar to the Noah Kagan article above, a key practice is to make it easy. If you want people to write a Tweet about you? Provide example Tweets to them so they can copy and paste. The article includes links to other helpful resources.

10. How I Hustled to Get the Perfect Job: From Tradecraft to Zumper

I read this article a few weeks ago and WOW. Ina Herlihy has dedication and gives you the details on how her job hunt. What’s her secret? Keep trying! Want to work at a company? Ask multiple people! Go to an event where you will see people from the company. Ina Herlihy also invested in herself by participating in an educational program called Tradecraft. Even if you’re not in Silicon Valley (I’m not), there is plenty of insight and inspiration to be drawn from this article.

11. Why You Need to Take 50 Coffee Meetings

When I interviewed Donald Asher last year, he encouraged readers to “take the call and take the meeting.” That’s an important attitude if you want to win in networking. In this article, Mark Suster shares his experience on networking broadly. Mark Suster has built several successful companies so there is much we can learn from him.

  • The math on this approach is compelling. My standard order at Starbucks – a tall medium – comes to $2 in Canada. If I implemented this strategy, the cost would be around $200 per year (assuming I pay for the other person and they have a similar order). That’s an incredible value to be earned on a small investment.

12. How Do You Get a Job Doing Marketing for a Start up?

Many people will tell you that applying to a job posting is one of the most difficult ways to get a great job. So what should you do instead? Brandon Croke offers his perspective on breaking into marketing. There is great tactical advice here such as the importance of learning high demand skills like copywriting. How Brandon Croke add to the conversation? He points out there is a big difference between a marketer who says “I can write write” and one who states “My copy delivers results because of this revenue (or this analytics data).

13. 4 Things Networking Can Help You Do (Besides Get a Job)

Many people think the only purpose of networking is to find jobs. That’s just not true. Lily Zhang shows four our “use cases” where it makes sense to network. For example, gathering intelligence on an industry (I would add that it makes sense to start with some reading of your own first so that you can ask good questions) and learning from mistakes others have made. Want more examples? Click through and read the article.

14. 5 Email Templates That Make Following Up With Anyone Way Less Awkward

Staying in touch with your network matters. Just think of how many people you met at events last year – how many of them are you still in touch with today? This article includes scripts that you copy and paste into your email service.

15. 7 Networking Mistakes Even Harvard MBAs Make

Learning what NOT to do is also helpful. Joel Comm’s advice includes going to events (online networking helps but it is not the whole game).

Networking Podcasts, Videos & Courses

I love to read and make it a daily practice. What if you prefer to learn from other types of media? I’ve got you covered with this section.

16. How to Connect with Powerful and Influential People

In this video, author Michael Ellsberg explains his approach to connecting with people. He brings a member of the audience on stage to demonstrate his approach. For more on Ellsberg’s approach, read his book “The Education of Millionaires.”

17. Susan Cain: Networking For Introverts

Most of the time, I see myself as an introvert (i.e. I recharge through alone time). If you see yourself as introvert, the benefits of networking are still available to you. In this interview, author Susan Cain offers advice for introverts seeking to connect.

18. How to Build a World-Class Network in Record Time

In this episode of the Tim Ferriss show, you will learn about Tim’s approach to networking. Before he became an entrepreneur and best selling author, Ferriss built his networks by volunteering at associations, focused networking at conferences and other means. This resource is most helpful to those seeking to maximize the value of participating in a conference.

19. Staying In Touch – Examples

An excellent Manager Tools podcast that provides templates you can use to stay in touch. Meeting new people is important. Yet, the “fortune is in the follow up.” Use this resource to maintain and grow your relationships.

20. How To Use The Holidays As A Networking Opportunity

In this Fast Company article, you will learn the mindset and tactics needed to achieve success during the holidays. I’m writing this entry right before the Canada Day holiday so the topic is on my mind. A key insight from the article:  “Ever look at a business card and think, “How the heck do I know him?”.. Consider doing what [Dorie] Clark does: “Don’t forget to write identifying notes on the back of people’s business cards, or enter their information into your database as soon as possible,” she suggests. “Because if you leave it until the new year, you’re likely to forget who was who.”

21. Your #1 Relationship Building Strategy

In this episode of the Mentee Podcast, Geoff Woods shares his strategy for conferences. Based on Geoff’s teaching, I have made two key changes in my approach to events and conferences. I aim to sit near the front and I work to ask a good question. How? I have a notebook with me during the presentation and write down a few possible questions. By being one of the few people to ask a question to the presenter, everyone in the room notices you and you have the opportunity to connect with the speaker after the session.

22. Productive Networking Dinners with Dorie Clark

Serving as the host of an event is one of the best ways to build your network of relationships. How do you put that idea into action? Listen to this podcast where author and consultant Dorie Clark shares her approach to networking dinners. Read “Mastermind Dinners: Build Lifelong Relationships by Connecting Experts, Influencers, and Linchpins” by Jayson Gaignard for additional insight including step by step directions if you are interested in pursuing this strategy.

23. How to Build a Millionaire’s Network with Keith Ferrazzi

Another resource with Keith Ferrazi? Yes! I’m enthused about sharing his material with readers because he has achieved outstanding results in networking in several industries. The podcast has some great material on developing relationships with mentors.

24. How To Grow Your Business With Associations: 5 Benefits You Need To Know

I wrote this article last year to promote the value of associations. Taking an active role in associations, often through writing and serving as a volunteer, is one the best networking strategies. The best point of leverage is to become a leader in the association. Becoming a leader often takes time yet it is worth it.

25. A Complete Guide to Building Your Network by Keith Ferrazzi

In this Udemy video course, Keith presents short video lessons on various aspects of networking. Much of the material is based on “Never Eat Alone.” Is it worth it to buy the course if you have the book? I would say yes for two reasons. First, you may find video easier to use than books. Second, the course includes files and templates that assist you in networking activities.

Networking Tools

The right tool for the job makes a major difference. Use these tools to support your networking efforts.

26. LinkedIn

An essential resource that needs to be part of your toolkit. Here are two tips to get you started: add a professional head shot to your profile and participate in groups related to your interests. There is much more to be said on LinkedIn as a career research tool. Perhaps I will do another article exploring LinkedIn in greater depth.

27. Meetup.com

Conferences are excellent network events yet they have some drawbacks. Travel costs alone make conferences difficult for many people. What’s the alternative if you are interested in live events? Meetup.com is a helpful service that I have used over the past few years. If your first experience at a given Meetup disappoints, suspend your judgement until you have attended two or three more events.  In my experience, technology related interests are well represented on Meetup. If you are interested in technology or entrepreneurship, Meetup is likely to be a great resource for you.

28. Use Cards & Stamps

Buy blank cards and stamps! Use them to send thank you notes. Or postcards. In a digital world, sending a traditional letter is one way to stand out. That said, the possibility of a Canada Post strike in 2016 does pose challenges. That’s why the “tools” section of this article has multiple tools.

29. Contactually

At a certain point, you may realize that managing your network is difficult or overwhelming. In that case, consider using a “CRM” (customer relationship management) tool to keep track. I have not used this resource myself but it does come recommended by networking expert John Corcoran.

30. FollowUp.cc

Relationships take time to develop. You may want to meet for coffee tomorrow but your friend is busy. Will you remember to stay in touch? This tool helps to solve that problem.

Book Review: Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Ego Is The Enemy

Is ego your enemy?

That’s a key question that author and strategist Ryan Holiday explores in his new book, “Ego Is The Enemy.” He shows how ego – irrational or delusional self-belief – has long been linked with success and striving for goals yet this same drive has a dark side. It’s an interesting challenge to navigate in the age of personal branding and social media. I love the expression Holiday references for managing one’s ego: it is like sweeping the floor. It’s an activity that needs to be done over and over again to maintain order.

One of the book’s chapters is “Work Work Work.” It’s a great admonishment to continue honing our craft and working even after we achieve success. The book’s style – sharing examples from history and then analyzing them – reminds me of Robert Greene’s books “48 Laws of Power” and “Mastery.” Given Holiday once worked for Greene, that makes sense. As a student of history, it is an excellent approach to counter our culture’s tendency to live in the present.

In the rest of this review, I will explore a few chapters and show they apply to career growth.

The Canvas Strategy

“The person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction, just as the canvas shapes the painting.”

Would you consider serving as an assistant, intern or aide to a successful person? Our popular culture is conflicted on this point. On the one hand, we have “The Devil Wears Prada” which suggests the opportunity aspect of working as an assistant. In contrast, we have the novel “The Assistants” by Camille Perri which emphasizes the stress and disappointment associated with this role. There is little glory in serving as an assistant. Yet, that lack of glory and attention presents an opportunity.

Drawing on Benjamin Franklin’s early career and Roman history, Holiday shows how these relationships have provided benefits for the supposed underling for many years. As an apprentice, intern or simply a new person to the organization, serving and clearing the way for those in charge yields benefits. First, this strategy encourages you to slow down and observe how the organization works and what it values (e.g. risk management may be prized over innovation). Second, there is reduced personal risk in a support role so you have the opportunity to make mistakes as you learn. Finally, the canvas strategy helps to proactively avoid charges of egotism.

Career Application: If you are new graduate or new hire, this strategy will equip you to focus on opportunity and learning rather than complaining about limitations. If you are established in your career, look for ways to serve those in higher levels.

Always Stay A Student

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” – Epictetus, Stoic philosopher

For years, I have pursued continuing education for professional and personal growth. Holiday shows that a student mindset goes a long way toward managing ego and avoiding disaster. Taking a page from history, he argues that the attitude to learn and adapt is a key reason for the success of the Mongol empire. Holiday’s perspective is especially important if you are thinking about career change, starting your career or simply looking to avoid the pain of ego. Continuing to focus on learning is easy when you acknowledge the world’s complexity.

Career Application: There are many ways to stay a student. Observe your reactions to performance extremes (i.e. “What did that person do to become this company’s youngest executive?” or “What led to that division bearing the brunt of layoffs last year?”). Analyze somebody who has achieved success in your field using a different approach (e.g. if you became a successful project manager by mastering the details, observe how another project manager achieved success by focusing on leadership skills). Finally, take up the challenge to read in a different field – use Alltop to explore topics quickly.

Managing Yourself Like Eisenhower, Not DeLorean

How far does genius, skill and inspiration take you? And what is the role of discipline and organization for high performance people? Holiday contrasts U.S. President Eisenhower’s focus on prioritization and delegation (see: the Eisenhower box) with the apparently unfocused approach of DeLorean. As a fan of the Back To The Future movies, I had only heard of DeLorean cars in those movies (see: DeLorean time machine) – I had no idea about the company’s troubled history and leadership.

In Holiday’s analysis, DeLorean comes up as a brilliant player in the automotive industry who is frustrated by the restrictions at General Motors He leaves to start his own company where he can pursue his own vision. So far, this story fits perfectly into our culture’s fascination with maverick entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, DeLorean’s poor management translated into major operational problems: “Cost per unit was massively over budget. They hadn’t secured enough dealers. They couldn’t deliver cars to the ones they had. The launch was a disaster. DeLorean Motor Company never recovered.” Genius alone was not enough. A genius inventor or designer needs leadership skills to lead a company.

Career Application: As you climb the ladder of success, develop new skills. As Holiday writes, “As you become more successful in your own field, your responsibilities may begin to change. Days become less and less about doing and more and more about making decisions… It requires a certain humility to put aside some of the more enjoyable or satisfying aspects parts of your previous job.” Shifting from an individual contributor (e.g. a software developer) to a management role (e.g. a project manager) is one of the most challenging shifts in our careers. That promotion is like entering high school or college – you’re starting at the bottom of a new ladder.

Maintain Your Own Scorecard

How you measure your success matters. If you exclusively use external measures (e.g. dollars earned, pageviews and awards), you are unlikely to be happy. Why? An exclusive scorecard ultimately depends on other people and factors that you cannot control. Instead, Holiday encourages readers to build our own scorecard.

Warren Buffet, the billionaire investor, is noted for his commitment to this approach: How Warren Buffett defines success. Of course, there ought to be some link between between inner measures and outer results. If your scorecard simply tracks minutes per day spent watching paint dry, boosting that score is unlikely to lead to interesting results.

Career Application: Take note of Holiday’s observation – “A person who judges himself based on his own standards doesn’t crave the spotlight the same way as someone who lets applause dictate success.” In the context of traditional employment, that means setting your own goals and standards apart from what an employer asks.

Question For The Comments

How do you manage ego? What approaches have proven most helpful?

Why Most People Fail At Career Change

Career Change

Are you unhappy with the direction of your career?

You’re not alone. Each year, there are new surveys on employee engagement that suggest millions are frustrated with their current job. In fact, Jobvite’s 2012 Social Job Seeker Survey found 69% of Americans they were either “actively seeking” a new job or “open to” a new job. According to Glassdoor research, common frustrations include poor leadership, technology and working hours (The Worst Companies to Work For).

What Forces Are Driving The Need For Career Change?

Several trends are powering a growing rise in career change. Think of these trends as powerful waves in the ocean. They can propel you forward or you can overwhelmed by them.

More Industries Are In Crisis.

Over the past twenty years, several industries have experienced major losses. In Ontario, a sharp decline in the number of automotive jobs prompted governments to provide billions of dollars to large car companies to boost the industry. In the travel industry, travel agents have been impacted by the rise of services such as Kayak and TripAdvisor. Whole books have been written about these trends.

What It Means For Your Career.

If you are currently employed in a declining industry, that trend will negatively impact for career advancement. To use a military analogy – while it is possible for a small force to defeat a much larger force (e.g. the defenders in the 1529 Siege Of Vienna), it is a high risk move. If career growth matters to you, competing in a declining industry is like running a race with your eyes closed. Do yourself a favor and move to a company with higher growth prospects – that will ease your path.

Megatrends Are Creating New Opportunities

Economic change often gets a bad reputation because the pain it causes attracts a lot of attention. A Fortune article reports findings from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas: nearly 500,000 layoffs were announced in 2015 (an increase compared to 2014). At the same time, other large scale trends are creating new opportunities. Here are three trends that I have been following over the past year:

  • Analytics and Data. This trend is creating new jobs at large companies (e.g. Amazon), startup firms and everything in between. For detailed insights on technologies, training and opportunities, read my InfoWorld article: Career boost: Break into data science. Another option is to start a formal program of study such as Coursera’s specialization in business analytics.
  • Internet of Things (“IoT”). What happens when Internet connected sensors become more common? I have reported that IoT improves air travel in both airlines and airports. Unlike the other two trends mentioned, this trend is still early. However, I see significant growth coming in the future. A key challenge for IoT connects to analytics and data science – what data should we collect and how do we use that data to improve results?
  • Cybersecurity. For immediate employment, this is one of the highest demand sectors I have seen. The arm’s race dynamic (attackers vs defenders) mean a constant demand for new ideas. Cybersecurity jobs are found at large companies like IBM, cybersecurity software companies, IT security consulting firms and beyond. For more on this topic, read my CSO article: How to get started in IT security consulting.

What It Means For Your Career

These above technology trends are likely to generate new companies and employment for years to come. What if you are not interested in technology jobs? Look for other trends that are likely to increase over time. Energy and healthcare are two industries that combine a history of high quality jobs and a bright outlook. Consider a 2016 article in Bloomberg showing the rapid growth in solar and wind energy since 2000.

Realizing You Have An Accidental Career

Trends and economic change suggest directions but only you can select a direction. My research and conversations suggest that many people fell into their current career rather than choosing it. Some people may be content with such a path. On other hand, if you are discontent with your current career, it is time to pursue a change.

Note: If you are interested in rethinking your career and life generally, I suggest reading Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Daniel Harkavy and Michael S. Hyatt. It is a short book that explains how life planning works. The website linked to in this paragraph also includes resources to guide you through the process.

5 Ways To Fail At Career Change

Deciding to change your career direction is exciting! You might have a relatively small move in mind (e.g. web development to mobile development) or a major change in mind (e.g. graphic designer to accountant). The key is to capture that frustration and channel it toward productive change.

Make sure you avoid these five failure points as you plan your career change.

1. Do Nothing. This failure is where you do nothing but dream and fume at how frustrated you are with your current career situation. Clearly, this is not enough.

2. Complain. This is a slight step up from the point above. At this point, you are expressing the problem. I think of career discontent as fuel – it has the potential to power change but only if you put into an engine and have a direction.

3. Resign Immediately. In rare cases, resigning immediately is the smart move. If your discomfort level is sky high, leaving makes sense. For 95% of people, resigning immediately – before you have a basic plan and knowledge of your next steps – is a recipe for failure.

4. Underestimate The Challenge. The easiest job search is where you do the exact same job at a different company (e.g. Java Developer at company X moves to a Java Developer role at company Y). The further you want to move away from your established skills, the harder the career change will be. Why? You will be competing against people who have been in your new dream job for years. Why? From the employer standpoint, a career changer means greater uncertainty compared to

5. “I’ll Figure Out Myself” Fallacy. Given enough time and patience, it is possible to make the “DIY” approach to career change work. That said, most of us have constraints to work against. You might give yourself a year to build up a client list. Or you realize that you only have 5-10 hours per week to learn new skills while you hold down your current job. In that case, you need all the help you can get. Learn from others who have already achieved success in your new dream job.

The Low Risk Strategy For Career Change

Whew! You might be thinking, “Does this mean I’m stuck in this career path?” Not at all. There are ways to move forward. Even better, there’s no need to quit your job tomorrow. Instead, use this approach to deconstruct your frustration and set direction.

Define Your Frustration.

Putting your frustration into words is a key step to planning a career change. Are you frustrated by compensation? Or is company culture more of a problem (e.g. high risk aversion)? Perhaps you are fundamentally bored or disengaged with the content of your work. At the same time, think deeply about what you like in your work (e.g. you like building spreadsheets and models? Maybe your interest here is really about applying systems thinking).

Read To Explore Your Horizons.

Expanding your career horizons through reading is low risk and high impact. If you are looking to expose yourself to a wide variety of jobs in a short period, look into The One-Week Job Project by Sean Aiken. If you have a specific focus in mind – e.g. explore if product management is right for you – read interviews with people in that profession. Next, read 2-5 of the books on the topic with the highest rating on Amazon.

Start your reading process with these resources:

Connect With Multiple People In The Field

Time to leave your office and meet people! The above reading step gives you ideas, a sense of a field’s opportunities and history. However, it is incomplete. It is vital to connect with several people (rule of thumb: at least 5 people at five different companies) doing the kind of work you are interested in. Write out some questions in advance and go ask for insights.

What if you don’t have any contacts that are related to your field?

  • Associations. Most professions have associations where people gather together to share advice, professional education and network. Look into joining an organization, reading their association newsletter or going to their events. WEDDLE’s Association Directory is a helpful resource to get started.
  • Educators. Similar to the point above, there are instructors who teach a wide variety of career skills. Many established instructors have developed extensive networks in their field over time. Read the instructor biography and then email them with a few questions to start the conversation (Tip: How to Connect with VIPs: 5 Tips for Cold Emails)
  • LinkedIn Groups. Joining LinkedIn Groups is an online strategy to gorw your network. For the best results, look for groups where multiple people are regularly contributing material and comments.

Validate Your Interest With A Project

Eventually, you need to do the work. Earlier this year, I wrote an article for InfoWorld explaining how to become an Android developer. During my research, several managers and experts commented that building an Android app is one of the best ways to set yourself apart and break into the profession. Whenever possible, look for a way to demonstrate your skills with a specific project. You can either work on a solo project or work in a group. For job search specifically, the best scenario involves creating something that other people use and have input on.

Here are X ways to do a project to validate your interest in a new career before you quit your day job.

  • Technology Careers. If you’re interested in switching to a technology or development career, you are in luck! Many companies offer free or low cost resources to developers. Explore CodeAcademy if you are interested in Python, PHP and other programming languages.

Question For The Comments:

What career change are you interested in?

17 Ways To Invest In Your Career Without Going Into Debt

Career Improvement For Less Than $1000

If you were handed $1000 to invest, where would you achieve the greatest payoff?

Let’s consider a few popular options:

  • Savings Accounts. Annual interest rates are 1-3%. Not much to get excited about there.
  • Dividend Stocks. A more interesting option with potential for growth, unfortunately there is also greater risk here. The S&P 500 dividend yield in 2015 was under 3%.
  • The classic ‘safe’ investment for many investors. Returns are sometimes better than savings account and sometimes less.
  • Your Career. Learning additional skills and growing your network? That could boost your income by 10%-20% this year.

Earlier this year, I read The Last Safe Investment by Michael Ellsberg and Bryan Franklin. The authors make a compelling case for investing in skills and networks instead of traditional financial assets. Yet many people have an overly narrow definition of what it means to invest in their careers: going for a MBA degree, professional certification or high priced bootcamp.

If your goal is to work at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey & Company, then an Ivy League MBA is your best bet. Potentially, you could make the case for student loans though one needs to keep the drawbacks in mind (see the New York Times: Student Debt in America: Lend With a Smile, Collect With a Fist). For everybody else, there are other options that will provide a faster return with a lower upfront investment.

Before you sign up for a crippling student loan or pour hours into studying for the GMAT, use these 17 strategies to boost your career.

Lay A Foundation For Success: 5 Daily Career Habits

Habits are a fascinating topic that I recommend everyone study. When you leverage good habits, you are able to make steady progress on your goals each day without giving much thought to them. The investment in this case is in changing your daily practices. Use the Tiny Habits approach to get started with habit development.

1. Read Your Annual Goals Each Day Before Writing Your Todo List

What’s the first thing you do each day at the office once you log into your PC? If you’re like me, you probably login to your PC, fire up Outlook and scan through email. In my case, the login procedure to the corporate network takes several minutes. That’s a golden opportunity to plan the day in less than 5 minutes. Here’s what you do.

  • Read through your annual performance goals.
  • Reflect on where you are making progress and where you are falling short
  • Write three “mini-goals” for the day that will move you toward achieving your goals.

2. Work On “The One Thing” For Your Job For The First Hour Of The Day

After you review your goals, what’s next? It’s time to invest an hour in a high value activity before anything else comes up. After all, the work day will only become busier.

For sales professionals, that could be a mix of following up on leads and calling prospects. For technology professionals, it could be designing a test for a new high impact feature.

Resource: Not sure what your most important goal should be? I suggest reading “The one thing : the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

3. Ask For Micro-Feedback

Feedback is helpful yet few people seek it out. Even fewer take that feedback into account and improve their daily work. If asking for feedback feels scary or uncomfortable, start with micro-feedback:

  • How did that meeting go?
  • Did the analysis I delivered yesterday answer your question?
  • How can we improve the customer experience?

Resource: The 5 Best Times And Ways To Ask For Feedback

4. Ask For The Bigger Picture

Specialization is a double edged sword. It creates value because you learn how to perform tasks better than a generalist. However, it also means you miss out on understanding what other people do. I recently learned that a monthly report I produce for another department is directly tied to $100,000 of annual revenues. I had delivered the report month after month for over a year before I asked how it was used. This insight helped me see this task in a new way (“oh this report actually has a revenue impact!”).

Here are a few ways to ask for the bigger picture:

  • What do you do with this document?
  • Who reads the report?
  • If I stopped doing this task, what would happen?

5. Record Your Daily Wins

In late 2015, I started to make daily notes about the work tasks I accomplished in Evernote. To remind myself, I set a reminder alarm for 4:40pm and it has been helpful. This practice is helpful in at least two ways: first, it motivates to have three worthy items to put into the log each day. Second, I periodically review the entries and look for patterns and gaps. It’s interesting to see a mix of small daily tasks and building up wins that relate to larger goals. Here are a few ways to put this habit into action:

  • Use Evernote (tip: if your company blocks Evernote, you can use the Evernote app on your iPhone – that’s what I do)
  • Use a text document (make sure that you back it up!)
  • Use a habit reminder app to remind yourself (I like Coach.me)
  • Make sure one of your daily wins relates to your One Thing

Investing $1,000 (or less) In Your Career: Little Hinges Swing Big Doors

Targeted investments in your career have tremendous power to grow your career. Choose two methods from this list to grow your career for less than $1,000 (most of the strategies will are under $200) this summer. Think of these approaches as a way to become an angel investor for your career.

6. Attend Local Events

Going to events is a powerful way to grow your network, spark creativity and add new insights. What if you can’t afford to get on a plane and visit a conference in person? Are there other options to consider? Yes! Here are ten ideas to help you find local professional events to grow your career:

  • Meetup.com: Meetup is a great place to connect with other people. For business, I find Meetup is strongest in the area of technology, startups and marketing. You might be out of luck if you want to find a supply chain management group (though you could always start your Meetup group for a small fee).
  • Ten Thousand Coffees. This one-on-one social network is designed to bring together people interested in meeting over coffee. I’ve used the service and found it interesting.
  • Local Chapter of the Project Management Institute. With over one hundred chapters in the United States and Canada (and more around the world), local chapters are an excellent way to learn new project management methods like agile, find out about project management software and more.
  • Eventbrite. This popular ticket platform has many different events and it takes some digging to find good ones. For example, you can find Discover Your Personal Brand, an annual event in Toronto that costs less than $200 and packs plenty of value.
  • Chamber of Commerce. Most cities and towns have chambers of commerce or business associations. In Toronto, I have benefited from attending Toronto Board of Trade events. Like other organizations mentioned, you don’t need to buy a membership in order to attend events.
  • Alumni Association Events. Many colleges and universities have alumni associations which are great learning resources. Over the past few years, the University of Toronto has put on excellent career oriented programs covering networking, communication and other topics through their Shaker event series. Check with your institution to see what they have available.
  • Charity Events. Attending a charity event is an interesting way to connect with other people in your city and industry. There are many different options to consider ranging from museum fundraisers to charity auctions. Start by looking for charities you already support and ask what events they have/
  • Guided Events/Tours. How much of your city have you explored? Exploring your city on a tour is an interesting way to expand your knowledge. Toronto has ROM Walks that cover different parts of the city. While this type of event is not limited to business professionals, you never know who you will meet. The new perspective you gain will boost creativity.
  • StartupGrind. For those interested in the technology industry, StartupGrind is an interesting organization to explore. Founders of companies in ecommerce, apps and other fields regularly give presentations about their firms. At the time of this writing, StartupGrind has a presence in 200 cities covering more than 80 countries.
  • Hack Events. There is a whole category of events with “hack” in them that are worth exploring. Finding these events involves spending a bit of quality time with Google search. Start by searching “CITY hackathon” (e.g. New York City hackaton).

7. Obtain Your DISC Profile To Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Through my study of Manager Tools’s excellent podcasts, I have found great value in the DISC profile. This assessment helps you to better understand your communication and interpersonal strengths. That’s valuable for two reasons: you will better understand how to focus on your strengths. Second, you will find out where you have gaps relating to others.

Tip: A significant amount of conflict can be traced to different communication styles and preferences. DISC (and Manager Tools’s podcasts) will help you to reduce that miscommunication clashes.

8. Join Toastmasters

Few international organizations match Toastmasters in value and longevity. For under $100 per year, you can improve your career by giving short speeches, running meetings and taking on leadership roles. I was a member a few years ago and I’m thinking to join again.

Resource: How To Become Successful With Toastmasters

9. Take An Online Course

Online courses have received mixed reviews due to widely varying quality and content. On the one hand, there are well respected offerings such as Cornell, Coursera, Lynda (free through Toronto Public Library and other institutions) and Udemy. On the other hand, “Trump University” has triggered lawsuits from highly disappointed students (e.g. Former Trump University Workers Call the School a ‘Lie’ and a ‘Scheme’ in Testimony).

Use these tips to evaluate online courses:

  • Course outline. Is there a course outline available? Does it cover topics at the right level of detail for your needs (e.g. introduction vs advanced)?
  • Reviews. Are there comments or reviews from past students? Are they detailed?
  • Goal alignment. Does this course advance your career goals? If you are signing up to study something “trendy” (e.g. cyber security) that does attract your interest, then be aware you may be facing an uphill battle in maintaining your attention.
  • Homework. Homework assignments are important if you are going to build a skill or acquire knowledge. Some of the best courses provide written feedback on homework or have “office hours” sessions where students can ask questions.
  • Instructor. Does the instructor have the right knowledge and capability to teach the course? Instructor credibility comes in different shapes and sizes. In a scientific field, holding an advanced degree may be helpful. In other cases, extensive research or publishing in the field may help. While learning from a top expert has value, there is also much to be gained from an expert who is a few steps ahead of you because they can better understand a novice student’s questions and concerns (i.e. reduced ‘curse of knowledge‘ problem).

10. Commission A Professional Photo For LinkedIn

A high quality photo for your LinkedIn profile sets you apart from other people. My LinkedIn profile photo cost less than $100 and it was great. I was fortunate to have a friend who gave me a great deal. Use the following tips to obtain a better LinkedIn profile photo:

11. Take A “Night School” Course With A College or University

I’m fortunate to live in Toronto where there are three universities and multiple colleges. Most of these institutions offer great continuing education programs. For less than $1000, you can take an introduction to accounting. Or you can take an introduction to wines. (Yes, I’ve done both of those!). If you want to boost the value of the experience, take a course in person, introduce yourself to the instructor and your fellow students.

Here are some examples to start your research process:

Improving Your Network

Every week, I have another conversation or read another article that emphasizes the value of networking and relationships. It’s important. Yet, the knowledge-execution gap persists. Here are a few tactics that will break down the “develop your network” into concrete actions.

12. Send Thank You Notes

This simple practice goes a long way. I suggest sending both thank you cards in the mail and sending them by email. Need to be convinced? Consider these findings from the Harvard Medical School on gratitude.

Did somebody help you with an Excel problem a month ago? Send them a thank you email right now (just a few sentences go a long way).

13. Introduce Two People In Your Network

This week, I’ve sent two introduction emails. One was introduce friends in the legal profession. The other was to introduce people in the banking industry.

If somebody asks you for help or information and you don’t have it, keep this tip in mind. Making introductions is an excellent way to help other people in a short span of time.

14. Do A “Get Back In Touch” Challenge

In networking, most people immediately put their focus on meeting new people (especially networking with powerful people). If you are looking to break into a new industry or if you just moved to a new city, that makes sense. Yet, this approach often means neglect for your existing contacts. What’s the solution? Take a page from Anna Runyan and implement the 4×4 challenge (reconnect with 4 past connections and meet 4 new people in a month.

15. Endorse Two People On LinkedIn For Their Top Skills

Skill endorsements are one way to show support for your connections on LinkedIn. There are some people who indiscriminately endorse people. Don’t be one of those people. If someone helped you design a better presentation in PowerPoint, endorse them for presentations or PowerPoint. Use these articles for further ideas on endorsements:

16. Ask For A Recommendation On LinkedIn

Asking for favors is part of networking. Asking a past client, manager or colleague for an endorsement is a great way to set yourself apart from other people. These short comments, typically one or two paragraphs, go a long way toward boosting your credibility.

17. Follow Up On Advice You Receive

Let’s say you meet the mentor of your dreams – the one with connections, power and knowledge.

She gives you one specific suggestion – read a strategy book, attend a conference, set goals or something else. What happens next? Based on my research, most people do nothing when they receive suggestions. That’s a lost opportunity.

Pause for a moment and think back to a suggestion you’ve received. Now, put that idea into action. Once you have some results, send an email to the person who suggested that idea about your experience. This method yields two benefits for your career: you execute helpful advice and you have an excellent reason to reconnect with a senior person.

 

How To Work From Home Successfully

Image Credit: Work From Home Success (Pixabay.com)
Image Credit: Work From Home Success (Pixabay.com)

Working from home is a hot topic for staff and managers at many companies. Staff are interested in the arrangement to reduce commuting time, travel expenses and address other needs in their lives. Managers support working from home to stay competitive, to access talent from other locations, and to reduce stress. The case for working from home is clear. Yet many people struggle to do it effectively.

Work from home success requires advance preparation and navigating blind spots. Read on to get ready and then find out how to avoid common failure points.

What Work From Home Jobs Exist?

In the research for this article, I found some surprising anxiety online. There are many people who have searched for “work from home jobs” and been disappointed by what they find. As the New York Times reported (Telecommuting Can Make the Office a Lonely Place, a Study Says) this year, some evidence suggests that remote work leads to: ” the researchers found that the employees who chose to continue working in the office ended up feeling lonely and disconnected.” Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Before covering advice on how to make it work, let’s cover the three main types of work from home scenarios.

  • Part Time Work From Home. Many companies allow their staff to work from home one to two days per week, with the rest of the week at the office. This is probably the most common work from home arrangement at large companies. Gallup reported that “U.S. workers say they telecommute from home rather than go into the office about two days per month, on average. Nine percent of workers say they telecommute more than 10 workdays — meaning at least half of all workdays — in a typical month” in 2015. This arrangement is commonly part of a broader work life balance strategy that includes flexible working hours, programs for parents and the like.
  • Full Time Remote Staff. What if you could work from home all the time as an employee? That’s the definition of this scenario. It is less common than the part time scenario. That said, I have known at least two people at a large bank with this arrangement. One person I know works from home four days per week and commutes to the office on the other day. Another person I know works from home and travels to the office once or twice per month. In both cases, the individuals requested this arrangement. It is also worth noting that they are fairly senior level professionals. If you are under the age of 40, do not have a family and/or do not live far (e.g. 100 km / 60 miles or further) from the office, this arrangement will be challenging to obtain.
  • Entrepreneur/Self-Employed Scenario. Those pursuing self-employed careers usually have partial to complete autonomy over where and when they work. There are trade offs needed to achieve this flexibility: starting a business, developing sales and marketing skills and accepting a high level of uncertainty. For more guidance on starting a business on a budget, I recommend “The $100 Startup” by Chris Guillebeau.

This article will focus on the first two scenarios of working from home as an employee.

Getting Ready To Work From Home: Your 3 Point Checklist

Use this three step process to gather information on the feasibility of working from home in your current circumstance. All three factors need to be in place in order to work from home successfully.

  • Job Analysis. The starting point is to understand the flexibility potential of your current job.

At one end of the spectrum, there are traditional jobs – retail and the trades, for instance – that are highly unlikely to provide the work from home option. At the other end of the spectrum, there are knowledge worker activities such as writing, research, technology development, and design. If you can do 80% or more of your job by yourself or with modern communication tools (the Internet, phone, etc), then working from home is a possibility. If you spend most of your work time physically performing actions (e.g. painting, moving objects or laying bricks), then remote work is out of the picture for you unless you move to a new job.

  • Company Analysis. Put aside company policies and policies for this analysis.

Instead, ask “How many people do I know at this organization who work from home on a regular basis?” If you can name at least two people, then you have a starting point to build on. If you cannot think of anyone, ask around for examples in your internal network. If you still find no examples, then it is time to face the facts: the organization does not currently support work from home. All hope is not lost. You could be the first person to work from home. If you decide to be a trailblazer, especially at a large established company, be prepared to face extra scrutiny.

Resource: Check out Fortune’s great article “100 Best Companies for Working from Home” if you decide to switch companies in order to achieve work from home flexibility. The list is an interesting mix of large firms (e.g Apple, Dell, IBM, American Express, General Electric) and other organizations.

  • Home Analysis. Some home environments are better suited to work from home than others.

An ideal arrangement is to have a home office room with a desk and a door because you can set up a permanent home office there. An alternative is to set up a temporary work site each day at the kitchen table, the coach or somewhere else. Other points to assess: noise levels (e.g. nearby construction, loud pets etc), reliability of your Internet service provider and your personal ability to focus on work while at home.

Don’t be discouraged if you find your work from home arrangements are less than ideal. That’s how it goes for most people. One final note on preparation: start with the bare minimum in terms of equipment and supplies. If discover you need to purchase more office supplies and equipment, Amazon is only a click away. Finally, check with your employer may reimburse you for some work from home offices such as a headset for taking business phone calls.

Three Communication Mistakes To Avoid When Working From Home

Effective communication determines much of our success, so create a foundation for success by avoiding these mistakes. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Please feel free to add your observations and ideas in the comments.

1. Failing To Become More Proactive

When you work from home, you miss out on the “oh, by the way” conversations that mark office life. I don’t know of a full solution to this problem. A partial solution is to increase your outbound communication. What does that mean? It means calling various people on the people (e.g. 2-3 people per day) for a few minutes to sustain connection. Waiting for other people to contact you is a recipe for increasing isolation.

2. Becoming Too Reliant On Email

Email is a wonderful tool, but it is limited. If you are developing an idea or proposal, you may struggle to put those ideas into written form. In other cases, you need to have a ‘crucial conversation’ to solve a problem or resolve a conflict with another person. In those two circumstances, use phone calls, video Skype calls and in-person visits to improve the quality of your communication.

  • Tip: I recommend the “2 email rule” for deciding when to pick up the phone. Once you have had two emails go and back and the issue remains unresolved, it is time to pick up the phone. A short phone call works wonders (see “The Tim Ferriss Superpower“)

3. The ‘Business Robot’ Trap: Becoming “All Business, All The Time”

As a long time fan of both Spock and Tuvok, this is an area where I face some challenges. As an introvert and pro-Vulcan person, it’s easy to focus on the business and neglect personality. If you face a similar challenge, be aware that working from home will make exaggerate your “Vulcan” (read: “cold” or “robotic”) tendencies. This is a problem because you may fail to notice and appreciate the emotional needs of others. In this area, I will refer you to a helpful article on Psychology Today: “How to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence ― 6 Essentials.”

Note: Sharing your interests – such as my love of Star Trek and science fiction – is one way to connect with other people.

Share Your View In The Comments

What is one mistake you’ve made (and learned from!) when working from home?

Job Shadowing For Professionals: The 5 Steps You Need

CareerLadder
Image Credit: Pixabay.com

Making a move to a new job is a major decision. There’s new people, new terms to learn and the pressure of being “the new guy.” There’s also concern about knowing whether the move is right for you. Fortunately, there is a way to reduce uncertainty about these decisions: job shadowing.

Once reserved for students and recent graduates, job shadowing is a strategy that professionals are using to explore new careers today. Through observation, asking questions and getting work done, you gain additional perspective on a job’s requirements quickly. Using the process in this article, you will be equipped to set up a job shadowing arrangement at your current company.

What If I Want To Job Shadow At A Different Company?

The process in this article is based on the assumption that you are interested in exploring other roles at your current employer. If you work at a large firm, there are other many different functions and departments to explore. However you may be determined to explore something quite different: go from IT project management to publishing. In that case, use a vacation day to find the time. Expect that it will take longer to arrange job shadowing at a different company.

Steps To Propose A Job Shadowing Project

Based on my experience and research, it’s possible to obtain approval for an internal job shadowing arrangement in a few weeks or less. This process assumes you have already defined a short term career goal and that you are using job shadowing to advance toward that goal.

1. Research The Job: What Does The Job Look Like?

The first step is to carry out research about the job you are interested in exploring. You may be interested in a product manager role. In that case, start by reading 3-5 job descriptions for the role to gain a basic understanding of the job responsibilities. Next, read a few interviews with people online who are already doing the job (e.g. How to Break into Product Management). This reading will equip you to ask better questions and plan what you want to accomplish.

2. Research The Organization: Does Your Organization Have People Doing Your Dream Job?

Now that you have an understanding of the job, it is time to identify specific opportunities. There are a few ways to explore your organization:

  • Asking mentors and trusted friends who work at the same company is a great starting point (e.g. Send them a short email to ask ‘I’m interested in getting to know product managers at our firm. Can you introduce me to someone in that role?”).
  • Searching the company’s intranet. Look for listings of the departments, divisions and senior leaders. Departmental newsletters are particularly helpful.
  • Read the organization chart and executive biographies. Each organization has a different structure – project management often reports to a technology executive while product management may report to a sales or marketing executive.

What if your organization doesn’t have anyone doing your target job title? If that happens, go back to step one and see if there are other job options at your employer that you could explore instead.

3. Develop Learning Goals: What Do People In Your Dream Job Actually DO?

Some job shadowing experiences disappoint because they are passive experiences. The “shadow” simply walks around and sits quietly in meetings. You can do better. The key is to direct your observation and other activities toward learning goals. Here are a few prompts to help draft your learning goals:

  • Learning Technical Skills. Technical skills are the core of any job. Identify one or two of these skills to learn through observation, study and direct application. For project managers, technical skills might include using Microsoft Project or project reporting. Ideally you will seek to learn a small technical skill that you can continue to use elsewhere.
  • Learning Leadership Skills. The art and science of leadership skills is another great area to learn. I have benefited from observing how other people prepare, design and deliver presentations. Likewise, I have benefited from observing leaders raise difficult questions and solve problems.
  • Career Appeal. Finding out whether a given job fits your interests and abilities is the final point. There is a simple way to assess appeal – are your interest levels in the role increasing or decreasing as you learn more about the role.

4. Raise The Request: The Fine Art Of Asking Your Boss For Support

Armed with your goals and research, it is time to have a discussion with your manager about the job shadowing arrangement. For the best results, I recommend writing a short proposal outlining your plan, what you plan to learn and possible impacts on your regular responsibilities (hint: make it clear that you will not drop anything your boss cares about!). My research suggests that the majority of managers are open to job shadowing and career development if it is presented in a professional ways. To increase the odds of success, make a small request (e.g. 1-2 days at another department) rather than asking for weeks away.

  • Tip: Involve your manager in the process and ask for their guidance in designing the plan. For example, they may want to call a manager in another department to plan the project. Or they may ask you to do further research and present a proposal. In any case, it is vital to involve your manager in the process. Failing to do so will hurt your reputation.

5. Report On The Assignment’s Success: Share What You Learned

At the end of your assignment, it is time to close the loop with your manager. This is a step that many people forget to complete. Prepare a one page summary report on what you learned and review this document in a meeting with your manager. This step demonstrates that you reflected on the experience and that it added value to your career.

  • Tip: Using your learning goals as a framework for this summary report. Describe specific insights and skills you learned. Rather than “learned communication skills,” note something like, “learned how to present a business case to executives to secure project funding.” In your remarks, share what the experience meant to you and thank your boss for supporting your career growth.

Further Reading And Resources

There are a wealth of resources on the market to help you through this process. Here are a few resources I recommend:

Reinventing Your Personal Brand by Dorie Clark. This Harvard Business Review book looks at career management through a marketing lens. It is a powerful to think about the value you bring to the market.

Reinventing You By Dorie Clark. A book length exploration by Clark that takes you deeper into the process. My Kindle copy of the book is filled with highlights.

Work experience: ‘I job-shadowed 60 people in 60 days’. An article in the Guardian shows how repeated job shadowing aids career discovery.