Thursday, December 18, 2014

Interviewing for a higher position

This question came in from a reader: "Do you have any advice for people interviewing for a higher level position (i.e. opportunity represents a promotion)?"

I have good news and I have bad news.

Let's start off with the bad news. But before I even do that let's set some context first. The hiring process from the employer's point of view is a dangerous one. It is a journey whose path is fraught with the possibility of making huge mistakes that could reverberate in an organization for years to come. Why? Because hiring the wrong person is nothing but destructive to the team, to the hiring manager and to revenue making potential. Furthermore it can take an excruciatingly long time to either coach that person up or move that person out. By default during the interview process hiring managers are looking for reasons not to hire someone. The candidate is guilty until proven innocent so to speak. As long as the position remains open a hiring manager hasn't made a mistake yet.

Given this perilous recruiting jungle a hiring manager will want to look for the best path to safety. That means hiring someone who they perceive has done the job already. Why take the risk of bringing on someone who from day one has to catch up in terms of understanding their role? [An aside: those stretch opportunities do exist typically when a company can't afford someone with experience for the role they have to fill. That has its own dangers for everyone involved but that's another posting.]

So the key to interviewing successfully in the "promotional situation" is to demonstrate to the greatest extent possible (while remaining 100% truthful) how you're already doing the job that you've applied for. Now for the bad news: if you haven't actually been in that role before this is difficult to do. It truly is hard to 'fake' it especially with an astute hiring manager.

About 12 years ago I was working with a recruiter who sent me on an interview for a fantastic, "promotional" opportunity. After the interview, which I thought went well, he contacted me. The feedback he had is that while I was a 'good guy' I didn't sound like a person at that next level. I asked him to elaborate. He tried to explain that I just didn't use the words, think about the things or answer the questions at a level that indicated readiness to move up. For example I was more tactical than strategic in my answers at the time. I was unhappy of course and quite frustrated too - as the adage goes: "you need to have the job to get the job". But they were right.

Now for the good news. Even if you aren't 100% ready you should go do the interview anyway. It will at the very least give you a sense of the types of questions hiring managers will ask when recruiting for that role. Pay close attention because you'll able to discern what you need to be thinking about and doing in your current job to better answer those questions the next time you are in this process.

Simply put, the way to get ready for the next job upwards is to be doing that job already in your current position. You have to do your current job and at the same time think about what someone the next level higher would be thinking about. And if it's possible do what someone the next level up would doing without stepping on anyone's toes - least of all your current manager's toes. You may find that your manager is happy they can delegate more of their work to you. This type of practice is the biggest key to success to further your career.

One additional suggestion: Find a mentor who already has the role you are seeking. That mentor will be able to give you a clear idea of their day to day work and advice of what you can already do to prepare.

Don't be afraid to go on that interview because:

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”–Wayne Gretzky

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot

“Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot.”
- Hausa Proverb

I would like to take this opportunity to give thanks to my readership for your continued interest both in my writings and in mentoring. As we enter the last part of the year 2014 many people find themselves open to reflection and planning. However you choose to spend the final weeks of the year I hope you find yourselves healthy, happy and in some way participating in mentoring. Thank you.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Doing What Is Required

“It is not enough that we do our best. Sometimes we have to do what's required.” - Winston Churchill

Recently I decided to take the advice of a good friend and start posting on my Facebook page and my Twitter feed quotes that are meaningful to me superimposed on photographs that I've taken. The combination of an image and a powerful quote seems to have found a strong connection with my audience.

Churchill's quote says many things. It raises the concept that someone's best may not always be good enough in life. That's true and can be a depressing realization. But the quote also inspires by demanding us to push past what we consider our best and do what is ultimately required in a given situation. That would establish a "new best" for ourselves. It gets us to achieve more than we originally thought possible. And that is one of the missions of a mentor.

A notion that pops up often in my mentoring conversations is the idea of fairness, or rather the lack of it, in life. A typical exchange I have will center around a mentee's disappointment about being passed over for a promotion or perhaps getting a smaller than expected raise. I listen quietly as the mentee describes for me their list of truly impressive accomplishments ending with the inevitable complaint of feeling unappreciated despite doing their level best.

When I'm asked my thoughts about the situation I reply in some fashion that while it may have been their best the effort was by definition insufficient to attain their goals. I go on to ask what was the gap between their best and what was required. I recognize that not everything is in our control yet this exercise proves extremely useful. Most of the time it leads to a productive conversation. The mentee arrives at some realizations and a clear set of next steps to improve the situation emerge.

Other times the conversation is far less productive. I end up hearing all the reasons that were out of this person's control to have done anything "better" than their best. That's perfectly ok too. At that point I shift my approach and do 2 things: 
  1. Brainstorm with the mentee about actions that could have helped them reach their goals but may not have been obvious. For example, was there a relationship they could have cultivated that would have lent support for their promotion? Or we may look at whether a career change is required to achieve their goals. 
  2. Guide the person towards being grateful for what they already have. Gratitude can be a potent balm.

The reason I chose that particular photo above to match this quote is because I had constructed a story around that little salamander at the time I snapped the picture. It was a very hot day and he caught my eye as I was walking quickly by looking for some shade for myself. As I fumbled for my cellphone camera I was telling myself that the salamander must be cooking on that searing concrete. He had to be having a tough time. He was probably looking for some food or even more likely something to drink. Those sharp white pebbles all around him would certainly not make his hunt any more pleasurable. 

I imagined that he must be thinking he's doing his best to get to what he needs but he's simply not catching a break - heat, pebbles and no water in sight. But if he's going to survive he's going to have to go beyond his best, deal with the situation at hand and do what's required.

When I found my shade I still thought about that salamander and how much luckier I am than he. But neither he nor I nor any of us can fully escape situations when we simply have to do what's required to get what we want or what we need out of life.

I wish for us all the fortitude to go and do just that.