Success on the Job Starts Day 1 – Virtually

Congratulations!  You’ve landed a new job.  But in this world of social distancing and work from home, you have to start virtually!  How do you do that and still make a positive first impression?

Starting a new job is the perfect time to make a good impression.  You want the employer to be confident that they made the right decision in hiring you for the position.  The first hundred days in a new job can be one of the most critical times of your career.  In a virtual work environment where you are not with your colleagues in the same office, there are additional challenges.  Here are some recommendations based on feedback from our employers.

  • Be Proactive – Show them you are engaged and committed before your first day of work. Reach out to your HR contact and hiring manager to let them know you are excited to be joining the company and ask how the virtual start will be handled.  Will equipment be shipped to your home?  What training is available for their unique applications?  How do you get access to company email?  What standing meetings should you put on the calendar?  What “homework” can you be doing in advance to be well-prepared for day one?
  • Manage Expectations – Try to schedule time on your first day with your manager and/or HR in advance. Discuss what the expectations are and how you will be measured for the first few months.  Will you have weekly meetings with your manager?  How will you meet other members of the team?  How does your manager prefer to communicate?  Starting out with shared expectations and open communications increases success.
  • Show Respect – Honor the culture of the organization you have joined and respect those in authority as well as your peers.  Learn what they do and how they do it before trying to change things. Listen to why things are the way they are.  Earn their respect before you start presenting opportunities for improvement.   Initially you should be spending more time listening than speaking. 
  • Open Communications – Identify your supervisor’s communications style and preferences and work to accommodate that style.  Also identify the style and preferences for your colleagues.  Discuss any concerns you have with your manager.  Provide your supervisor with progress reports.  Avoid surprises – such as a project not completed on deadline.  Let them know in advance if there are issues.  Keep your manager advised of any concerns that could impact results and deadlines.  Set the pattern for open, frequent communications early.  Ask for feedback regularly so you can fine tune your performance to ensure you are meeting or exceeding expectations.
  • Ask Questions – Do not make assumptions.  You are learning the company and the role.  Ask questions to be sure you understand.  Clarify requests to be sure you understand what you are being asked to do.  Inquire how your work supports the department’s goals and the company’s objectives.  It is not a sign of weakness to ask questions.  Don’t waste time and energy doing the wrong things because you didn’t ask.
  • Take Notes – Take notes so you don’t ask the same question again.  Review your notes and apply what you have learned when faced with similar tasks or issues.  Keep a record of your accomplishments – details of projects competed and impact on the organization, skills you developed or enhanced, knowledge you gained.  They know you are new and you will need to ask questions as part of the learning process but they will quickly grow frustrated if you keep asking the same questions.
  • Be Fully Engaged – If possible ask what you can do prior to your start date to learn more about the company, the team and the position.  Do your homework researching the company, competitors, industry etc.  Demonstrate your energy and enthusiasm.  Remain positive.  Show you are hungry for a challenge.  Pay attention to both quality and timeliness of your work.  Look for ways to exceed expectations.
  • Identify Solutions not Problems – When you encounter problems, try to find possible solutions.  Identify unmet business needs and ways you can help meet them.  When identifying a problem, always offer at least one reasonable solution.
  • Listen – Learn as much as you can by listening to others as they talk about the industry, the company and the department.  Listen carefully to instructions for assignments and clarify as needed.  Pay attention to deadlines, guidelines, and procedures.  Always ask for feedback and think about how you can apply what you learned going forward.  Seek continuous improvement.
  • Earn the Challenging Assignments – Employers don’t give the most challenging project to the rookie in most cases.  Demonstrate with your early assignments that they can count on you to deliver high quality and timely work and you will begin to earn more challenging assignments.
  • Show initiative – Look for ways to exceed expectations.  Identify unmet business needs and determine ways you can help.  Offer to assist a busy colleague with a big project.  Volunteer for a project that needs a home.
  • Be Flexible and Adaptable – Accept all assignments cheerfully and give every assignment your best effort.  Be open minded about new ideas, new procedures and different work.  Anticipate change and embrace it.
  • Curiosity – Ask open ended questions to demonstrate your interest.  Offer ideas and suggestions for possible improvements.  Seek opportunities to learn more about the company and the industry.
  • Leverage Connection Opportunities – Many organizations are organizing virtual teams for a variety of work and social affinity groups. Stay focused on your priorities but as time allows engage in appropriate virtual events to meet colleagues and better understand the organization.
  • Take Advantage of Online Training – Ask early what online training is available so you can take full advantage of the options. It is a great way to fill some initial down time and you may not have the luxury later when you are busier.  Learn as much as you can while you have the opportunity to support your future success.

The manager hired you instead of all the other candidates because he/she believed you could make a difference on their team.  Show them from day one that they made the right decision.  Your flexibility in a virtual start will demonstrate your resiliency and prepare you well for future success.

Why Networking Matters

Now more than ever networking is critical to the success of your job search.  Most HR professionals and their hiring managers are working virtually.  Schools and businesses are closed disrupting our personal and work lives.  The health and safety of our loved ones is top priority.  But you may still need to find a job.

What is a job seeker to do?  Network!  It is more critical than ever that if you hope to land that next position, you need to be networking.  While initially networking is a valuable source of information, you can build a network of supporters who can transform your job search.  Supporters can forward your resume to the hiring manager to increase the likelihood it will at least be reviewed.  Supporters can offer a recommendation which is valuable to the hiring manager.  Supporters can provide insights on the hiring process at the company, the particular position and the team.

While social distancing is the new normal, this a great time for networking.  Either using video tools or by phone, this is a great time to connect and build a network to help you learn more about the companies on your target list and to help them get to know you and the talent you could bring to their organization.  Set yourself weekly networking goals and hold yourself accountable.  In a time that many parts of life are feeling out of control, focus on something you can control – achieving your networking goals to support your job search.

General rule of thumb for a successful job search, spend ten times more time networking than sitting behind your computer.  It is the single most important thing you can to ensure a successful job search.

Working Smarter Not Harder – Virtually

At a time when most of us are working from home not knowing exactly how long the isolation orders will last, it is important to focus on working smarter not harder.  What are the things we could do to have a significant impact on our productivity in the work day while working from home?

Establish and Honor Boundaries

Define a specific place work and the hours you are available to your customers and/or colleagues.  Just because you are at home doesn’t mean you should be working or even available 24/7.  That is not productive or healthy.  Don’t ask colleagues to do things outside normal working hours unless it is an emergency.  It is easy to let the work expand to all the available hours so being mindful of boundaries keeps you focused and efficient.  It is also healthier!

Breathe

Fresh air and sunshine can have a significant positive impact on your productivity and attitude.  Whether you get out for a walk before you start your day, escape at lunch time or reward yourself at the end of the day, the fresh air and exercise are an important way to stay healthy both mentally and physically.  Take care of yourself so you can be there for others and be productive at work.

Prepare for Tomorrow, Today

Before wrapping up at the end of the day, review your calendar for tomorrow and identify your top priority.  Leave nothing on your desk but your file for that top priority project.  Rather than getting distracted in the morning, you are ready to jump right in to the project that matters most.  It takes far less time to do this the night before when it is all fresh in your mind that to start your day by sorting and organizing your desk files trying to determine where you start. This small investment of time can significantly impact productivity the next day.

Eat Your Vegetables First

As a child I did not like eating my vegetables.  I’d leave them until last and would push them around my plate.  Some nights it took forever to be excused from the table because I had to finish those vegetables.  Once I realized that if I ate them first and did it quickly, the rest of the meal was much more enjoyable.  Apply the same principal to your work.  We all have tasks we consider vegetables.  Whatever task if is you are dreading most, do that first thing in the morning and cross it off your list.  Don’t let it loom over everything else you have to do that day.  Just do it and get it done.

Don’t Fall Prey to the Urgent

Do not let someone else’s emergency become your priority.  Just because someone needs something now or sooner than planned, does not mean it is your priority.  If your boss or a senior executive needs something quickly there may well be a good reason and you should probably do it quickly and accurately.  What you need to resist is the implied urgency from emails or other requests thata re not a priority.  Spend the bulk of your time each day on what is most important (instead of what is perceived as urgent) and your productivity will soar.

Thinking Time vs Doing Time

When what you need is truly time to think before you jump into the next project, block your time.  Have your calendar show that you are unavailable.  Book a time that you know you can close the door and focus.   It is hard to think when interruptions abound.  To ensure quality thinking time you need to give yourself time and space away from the normal interruptions, especially when working from home.

Avoid Isolation

With current social distancing, it is much easier to feel more isolated than usual.  Be sure to have regular meetings with your team where you can see each other.  Check in with colleagues periodically to see how they are doing.  You are separated from the normal casual interactions of the office environment so it is important to consciously make the connections.  Staying connected to your colleagues and the overall goals you share makes it easier to stay focused on really needs to be done.

It is fine too long to be back in the office with your colleagues but for now the priority is health and safety.  Use this time to get some projects and planning done so you can be productive once you head back to the office.

Why Should We Hire You?

Students are often shocked to be asked directly in an interview, “why should we hire you?”  Whether the question is asked directly or not, every candidate needs to answer that question for every interviewer in the process, if the candidate hopes to succeed.  If you are prepared to answer it directly, you are ready but in case they don’t ask, you can use that preparation in your summary.  You want to be sure the interviewers leave the room with the answer to that question firmly in their mind.

Take this opportunity to demonstrate your fit and your interest.

Skills and Expertise

What does the employer specifically need that you can offer?  How are your skills and expertise uniquely aligned with this position so you could contribute at a different level than other candidates?  Demonstrate that in meeting the specific needs of the employer that you are interested and excited about contributing to the goals of the company and the department in this specific role as a great next step in your career.  In addition to your skills and expertise you bring motivation and a strong work ethic as well.

Unique Qualifications

If there is something unique about your qualifications be sure to emphasize that.  It is important to be well informed about the company, the department and this specific role in order to sell the on your unique skills.  Of course they are talking to other candidates but what is it about you they can’t find in others?  Do you have experience in their industry, using their software, working with their clients, or other unique perspectives?  Are you willing to share your knowledge of others for the good of the team?  Be sure the interviewers have a clear sense of your unique qualifications.

Solve Problems

Often the need to hire for a specific position is related to solving a business problem or eliminating a pain point.  Do you have a track record of solving problems?  Share some examples.  Are you motivated by the challenge of finding a better way to do something?  How could you specifically assist with this particular problem?

Don’t duck this question if it is asked.  Demonstrate your unique value add.  Be sure to do so even when the question is not asked.

Overcoming Objectives in an Interview

Job descriptions are often a wish list of all the skills and experience they hope to find in the perfect candidate.  You may not have everything on their wish list but clearly they saw something of value on your resume if you are invited to interview.  As you research the company and prepare your questions for the interviewer as well as practice your responses to anticipated interview questions, don’t forget to prepare for the objections.

There are few absolutely perfect candidates out there so it is likely the interviewer will have some objections or concerns.  If you have multiple interviewers, they may even have different concerns.  You will address those objections more positively if you are prepared for them.  To anticipate objections, review the job description in detail and highlight any qualifications that you do not meet or any experience you do not have.  Think about how you would address each item if you are asked.  Some general advice includes:

Do Not Apologize – Never apologize for skills or experience you do not have.  They had your resume and chose to speak with you.  Focus instead on what you do have, how the skills are transferrable or even your track record of learning new systems, industries, whatever.

Embrace the Opportunity – Giving you an opportunity to address the objections is truly a gift.  Instead of leaving them worried about some aspect of your background, they are offering you the opportunity to address it proactively.  If you ae prepared to do so this can strengthen your candidacy.  Never get defensive, just address what you do bring to the table and how you would add value to the company in this role based on the skills and experience you do offer.

Confront the Elephant in the Room – Sometimes you will be doing fine in the interview, the conversation is flowing and things start to wrap up when you realize no one has voiced any objections or concerns.  Instead of thinking that means you got the job, you need to confront the issue so you have an opportunity to address it.  Maybe they are not asking because they assume there is something critical missing and you will not advance.  Don’t leave things to chance.  Ask the interviewer if they have any concerns about your ability to make an impact in this role.  That way, if they do have concerns, it puts on them on the table so you have an opportunity to address them.  Better to address any concerns they have than to leave them hidden.

If you can anticipate possible objections and enter the interview prepared to address them, you are more likely to be successful.  It also helps to keep your confidence intact throughout the interview if you are prepared to address the concerns.

Tips for a Successful Interview – Tip #4

Your goal in an interview is to land the job or at least be moved forward in the process.  For the employer the goal is finding the best candidate for the job.  While several candidates may have the appropriate skills to succeed in the position, employers use the interview process to identify and assess the best fit.  You want to make the best possible impression with everyone you meet in the process and you do not want to give them an easy reason to eliminate you from future consideration.  If there is a strong pool of candidates, they are often looking for small reasons to cut the pool.  Don’t make it easy to cut you.

Attire and Professional Presence

 For interviews you want to always put your best foot forward.  While it is not likely you will get the job simply because you have the best suit, you can be easily eliminated if you do not make a good professional impression.  You want to project a confident, professional presence.  Always wear a suit and be sure it is clean, pressed and that it fits well.  Ladies, pants suits are fine but if you wear a skirt, be sure it is not too short.  Have a blouse that tucks in and is not low cut.  Men, the shirt should be pressed and the tie should coordinate.  Socks should match the trousers.  Be sure to polish your shoes.  When in doubt, err on the side of being conservative.  Be sure your hands are clean since you will be shaking hands.  Hair should be clean and well groomed.  Deodorant is critical but go easy or eliminate cologne since it can easily overpower an interview room.  Go easy on jewelry to ensure that it is not a distraction during the interview.  Even if most employees are in business casual, professional attires sends two key messages – you are taking the interview seriously and you know how to look professional in case they need to put you in front of a client!

Demonstrate Your Interest through Your Preparation

Be well prepared, it shows interest and professionalism.  Have questions prepared in advance that you want to ask.  You should have your references available in case you are asked.  Be sure you have verified and confirmed the contact information.

Be Someone They Want as a Colleague

Even if you are nervous, it is important to smile.  It demonstrates your interest.  While you are onsite for your interview, be pleasant to everyone you meet.  It is not unusual for a hiring manager to ask the administrative assistant or receptionist for feedback on candidates.    Arrive a few minutes early.  Ask if you can take notes as appropriate.  Give it your best shot – focusing on how you can meet their needs not on what you want.  Often many candidates have the qualifications to do the job so fit with the rest of team is critical.

Say Thank You

 A handwritten thank you note should be sent to every person you interview with at a company.  Each note should be customized to the individual, referencing something that you discussed.  This is an opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills, your professionalism and your enthusiasm for the opportunity.  Each note should be unique since they will likely compare notes.  Thank them for their time.  Let them know what you are excited about regarding this job.  Let them know you want to be on the team.  If you know the process is moving quickly you can send a very professional email thank you note but should still follow-up with a handwritten note.  It is a differentiator.  So few people write handwritten notes anymore they are memorable.  Always get your notes in the mail within 24 hours of the interview.  In a tough decision between two finalists the decision may come down to who sent a thank you note.  I have seen this happen many times.

Tips for a Successful Interview #3

You want to be remembered for your positive answers not the ones you answer inappropriately.  Take a look at true but unsuccessful answers to typical interview questions.

Sample Worst Answers to Interview Questions:

So, tell me a little about yourself.

  • “there really isn’t much to tell.”
  • “I’m really not all that interesting.”
  • “I haven’t done much yet.”
  • “Well, I was born in xx and went to elementary school…..  5 minutes later the candidate is still babbling and the interviewer has completely glazed over.”
  • “My life really started going downhill when my parents got divorced when I was a teenager.  They really ruined my life.”
  • “once I joined AA my life started getting better”
  • “After I beat cancer for the second time…”
  • “I’m married, I have three kids ages 3, 5 and 7…”

Why do you want to leave your current job?

  • “they don’t pay me enough”
  • “they expect me to work too many hours”
  • “my boss is a jerk (idiot, etc.)”
  • “my colleagues are all idiots”
  • “they don’t know what they are doing there”
  • “the company is on the brink of bankruptcy”
  • “I think they are probably doing some illegal things”
  • “I’m bored out of my mind”
  • “they don’t give me things that I like to do”
  • “After six months of doing the same thing every day, I’m ready for a change”
  • “I need more flexibility to handle my kids activities after school”

What interests you about this company?

  • “I don’t know anything about the company but figured why not apply since I really need a job.”
  • “My friend works here”
  • “I heard you pay well”
  • “I need the benefits”
  • “It is close to home”
  • “it is a recognizable name so it would look good on my resume”
  • “I really like your product.”

What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?

  • “I don’t have any weaknesses”
  • “I really don’t know.”
  • “I get things done.”
  • “I was a star student (athlete)”
  • “I can make other people get things done.”
  • “I’m the best candidate you are going to see so we could save time by moving the process forward.”

How would your current or former colleagues describe you?

  • “the best employee they ever had”
  • “the only employee who did things right”
  • “someone who worked hard even though they were given the boring jobs”
  • “their best friend”
  • “A great guy to hang out with after work.”

What is your goal for the short term?

  • “I need to get a job as soon as possible.  I have bills to pay.”
  • “ I need the health/dental insurance right away so I can have some problems taken care of”
  • “Get a new job that isn’t so boring”
  • “Get a new job that doesn’t require any nights or weekends”
  • “Get a job working with people who have more realistic expectations”
  • “Get a job so I can move forward with a divorce”

Do you prefer to work independently or in a team?

  • “Working with teams is such a waste of time since half the people don’t do anything anyway.  Just give the work to the person who can get it done.”
  • “Other people think they know it all and they don’t so teams are a waste of time”
  • “I can get everything done on my own without needing help from anyone else”
  • “I always get everything done that is assigned to me on my own”
  • “I just put my head down and plow through the work. “
  • “working with a team makes things take longer”
  • “I only like working with a team if there is someone on the team who really knows how to do all the work”

Are there certain tasks or types of people you find difficult to work with?

  • “People who think they know it all aren’t fun to work with”
  • “I don’t like working with people who are obsessed with following the process.  Rules are meant to be broken.”
  • “Demanding people stress me out.  They set deadlines and expect everything to get done by their deadline just because they said so.  They probably don’t really need it then.”
  • “I hate having to do the same thing every day.”
  • “Repetitive tasks are too boring.  Once I know how to do things they should make someone else do the boring stuff.
  • “I don’t like people who keep checking to see if my work is done or if I’m making progress.  I’ll get to it.”

Let’s talk about salary.  What are you expectations?

  • “I know I’m worth a lot more than what I’m making now.”
  • “I just finished an MBA so I’m worth at least $25K more than I was making before.”
  • “My rent just went up and I have car payments to cover so I need more than I was making before.”
  • “I’m a hard worker so I deserve to be at the top of your range.”

Do you have any questions?

  • “no.”
  • “not really”
  • “you already answered them all”
  • “Do I get the job?”
  • “how much does the job pay?
  • “How much vacation and sick time would I get?
  • “Can I still take my planned trip next month?
  • When can I start?
  • Is the drug testing really required?

Prepare for your interviews so you can put your best foot forward with each response.

Stay tuned for more tips on successful interviews.

Customized Cover Letters #3 – Top Ten Cover Letter Mistakes

A well-written, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile but common errors on your cover letter can result in a quick trip to the “no pile.”  To avoid the dreaded “no pile”, avoid these common cover letter mistakes.

  • Overuse of “I” and “my”— Resist the temptation to start every sentence with “I” or “My”. Your focus should be on meeting the employer’s need to address a business issue.  Vary your sentence structure and keep the focus on them.  Too many “I”s comes across as self-centered and cocky and demonstrates sub-standard communication skills.  Your cover letter is considered an example of your business writing so put your best foot forward.
  • Typos and Grammatical errors – Proofread your letter and least twice and have someone else read it for you as well. Do not rely on spell check to identify all the errors.  Hiring managers expect your cover letter to be error free and will often immediately move a candidate to the “no pile” if there are errors in the letter.  The worst is a sentence highlighting your attention to detail which contains errors.
  • Form Letters – To be effective, a cover letter must always be customized to the specific position and company. Hiring managers who read cover letters often can spot form letters very quickly.  Phrases such as “this position” and “your company” scream form letter.  Candidates often
  • Tentative Language – In your cover letter you want to be confident but not cocky. Avoid tentative language such as “I think”, “I feel”, “seems like” or “I had to.”  Be honest but always project confidence when sharing your experience.
  • Inconsistent Bullets—It is acceptable to use bullet points in your cover letter to highlight the experience you bring to the job. Ensure that bullets are consistent in format.  Don’t start some with verbs and others with nouns or mix tenses.  Consistency is important.  Also, don’t use the same bullet points as on your resume.
  • Arrogance—Avoid phrases such as “best candidate” and “perfect fit” when describing your capabilities. You are really not in a position to make that assessment and it comes across to the reader as arrogant.  You want to be positive and confident but cocky is a turn off.  It is best to demonstrate your capabilities with examples.
  • Lack of Professional Format—A cover letter is a formal business letter. It should have your contact information on the top with the same heading as your resume.  It should then have a date, an address block and a salutation.  “Dear Mary Jones” is not appropriate for a salutation.  It should read “Dear Ms. Jones”.  Failure to follow official business letter format gives the letter an inappropriate air of casualness.  Demonstrate that you are taking this seriously and that you can compose a proper business letter.  This is also a sample of your written communication skills for the hiring manager.
  • Failure to Connect the Dots—Hiring managers know what they are looking and for and you know what you have done. Don’t assume they will take the time to connect the dots.  Use your cover letter to clearly identify how your experience and skills meets their needs.
  • Limited Language – Do not use the same words repeatedly in your cover letter. Use a thesaurus if necessary.  Using the same words and phrases implies that you don’t know other words and that your communication skills are limited.
  • Use of Acronyms – The hiring manager does not know your hiring company. They will not have a clue what the XYZ project is for the ABC system.  Explain your responsibilities in clear language that anyone could understand.  Don’t let your accomplishments be lost in the acronyms that only insiders understand.

A carefully crafted, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile for consideration.  Avoid these common mistakes to stay out of the “no pile.”

Stay tuned for more tips on successful interviews.