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.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Every Calling

"Every calling is great when greatly pursued." 
                                                    - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

I love this Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. quote because it articulates a key theme in my mentoring work and likely the mentoring work of many others. While often mentees seek advice about particular industries, career paths or specific skills I have found that just as often mentees seek the confidence (or in some cases the 'permission') to make a difficult decision about the path they find themselves on. Sometimes that decision is about whether to pursue something they love despite the lack of certain benefits such as monetary gain. In other cases it is the opposite where they were trying to decide whether a perceived gain was worth pursuing on an ultimately unfulfilling path. 

As an example I'll share a conversation I had with a mentee who concluded that they had reached their maximum potential as an individual contributor and was contemplating with trepidation whether to follow a management career path. They no longer saw neither greatness nor joy in their current role. They felt that becoming a manager, while a riskier and somewhat unpleasant choice, would at least give them a bump in salary. 

After the mentee finished describing their dilemma I started asking many questions. My curiosity centered on the underlying motivation for moving towards a management role and moving away from their current role. I wanted to understand whether this dilemma was arrived at by choice, by boredom, by financial pressure, by misunderstanding or by something completely different. As it turned out that individual didn't feel like their amazing contributions were being noticed. They thought occupying a managerial position of power would get their accomplishments noticed and that their greatness would finally be recognized and rewarded.

I led the conversations that followed down two parallel tracks. The first track was based on finding fulfillment in what they were already doing - basically finding the joy in every day life. The second track focused on improving communication and networking skills. I hypothesized that these were lacking as these are precisely the types of skills that gets one 'noticed'. So instead of focusing on obtaining another position sometime in the future we worked on improving skills and bringing out the greatness that the person already had within them today. After many months this individual let me know that becoming a manger would have been one of the biggest mistakes they could have made. 

Which bring us to the quote above which inspired this post. I see the role of a mentor to encourage/remind/inspire folks to keep in mind that any calling including the one they are currently in (as long as it's not unethical or immoral or hurts anyone of course) can be great if pursued and done greatly. And I believe that the pursuit of greatness is in everyone's capacity.

I'd like to end this post with another quote that is meaningful to me. It is one of the keys to being an effective mentor:
“Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.” 
                                                                              - Mark Twain 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Scaling a Mentoring Program

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In my work with and within organizations that have mentoring programs I'm invariably asked about a common challenge: The program is getting extremely popular so how do we scale (expand) it?

Typically mentoring programs are set up by the Human Resources, Employee Training or Organizational Development department. These teams tend to be small and are made up of extremely resourceful (no pun intended) people who creatively do a lot for a company with very, very little. And while running a mentoring program does not usually require a lot of cold, hard cash it does take a lot of coordination, communication and time for it to be really successful.

Most formal mentoring programs are set up similarly with people signing up to be a mentor, a mentee or both. The signup usually includes a short profile that needs to be filled in by the applicant and includes questions about interests and expectations of the program. Once the deadline passes and the application period closes the daunting task of matching mentors and mentees is left up to the small team running the program. The time it takes for the team to read every mentor application, every mentee application, cross reference and discuss each possible match and then communicate the final mentor/mentee pairing decision is enormous. The folks involved in the matching exercise also have their "day jobs" thus extending the matching period even longer than first estimated.

As mentoring programs get more popular and companies find themselves with more applicants the pairing phase gets exponentially longer. In many instances this growth ends up freezing the pairing process. The program eventually becomes too successful for itself and gets put on hold never launching its next wave of mentoring relationships.

What can be done?

My answer to the matching bottleneck is for mentoring programs to put the onus back on the mentee to find their own match. I advise mentoring program coordinators to stop laboriously force matching people with the likely result that several of those pairs won't be good fits. Those program coordinators would instead spend that time:

  1. Advertising and communicating about the program. A key part of a mentoring program's success is a company's visible support of the activity. This company backing essentially gives people "permission" to spend time seeking out mentors and enriching themselves with this activity.
  2. Offering learning sessions about what to look for in a prospective mentor and how to approach them.
  3. Offering learning sessions on how to be a good mentor and how to be a good mentee.
  4. Brainstorming with prospective mentees to come up with a candidate mentor list - a list of people they should consider approaching.

The above approach allows a small group of folks to set up a supportive structure for mentees. Mentor/mentee pairs who are not force matched have a far better chance of being successful because the participants picked each other with little direct intervention from an "outside" person. I see this as a win-win-win situation for all parties involved.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mentoring for the Wrong Reasons

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My main goal with the OnMentoring blog and YouTube channel is and has always been to inspire people to find or to become career mentors. It is usually far easier to convince someone to be a mentee compared to a mentor because the benefits are more obvious from the mentee's perspective. So this posting is highly unusual for me in that I want to refer to an article entitled "Mentor or Martyr? Beware the Rescuer Trap" by Manfred Kets de Vries about a set of circumstances when you should not become or continue as a mentor.

The article uses the term "Rescuer" to essentially mean someone who cannot separate their own emotional needs from those of the person they are trying to help. To the Rescuer the act of mentoring is more to fill a void in their own life rather than help another. Serial rescuers "feed off a vulnerable and dependent person and feel satisfied when able to elicit gratitude and appreciation". In other words a "rescuer" is in it for themselves which is the antithesis of why one should be mentoring. The article includes a set of insightful questions a mentor can ask themselves to ensure they are not "Rescuers". It's a really good read.

I'd like to share some additional bad reasons to be acting as a mentor:

  1. Don't do it to "look good" or "get promoted". As in the rescuer situation above someone that's mentoring solely so they look good to their own management is much too focused on themselves to be of any real use to a mentee.
  2. Don't do it purely to network. While networking is a likely outcome of most mentoring relationships one shouldn't become a mentor in order to immediately gain access to a mentee's contact list. The reverse is also true.
  3. Don't mentor as a replacement for good leadership. I've occasionally seen managers who were having problems leading their own team go and take on a mentee.  I can only speculate as to reasons why. Perhaps it was to make themselves feel worthy of their management role. In this situation I very strongly urge that person work on making their own team and their own relationships successful before dedicating any time to mentoring others.
Of course most people do not fall into any of these categories and so I continually ask everyone to consider becoming someone's mentor. And if you do happen to fall into one of these categories hopefully the issue can be resolved and you have a bright mentoring future ahead of you.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The GREAT Mentoring™ Model - Be a GREAT mentor!

One of biggest reasons people stumble upon this blog is to find tips on how to be a mentor. It's also one of the most popular questions I get asked. I've written several articles about finding and being a mentorfiguring out if you'll be a good mentor and if you are being effective in your current mentoring relationship.

As I pass the 4th anniversary of this OnMentoring blog which consists of over 100 postings and celebrate nearly 20 years actively participating in a mentoring capacity I felt I needed a succinct communication mechanism for people to remember what's important about being a mentor. So I came up with an idea and a simple model that captures those key elements of being a great, effective and empowering mentor - I call it GREAT Mentoring™

Here is the model - simply remember the word GREAT and what each of the letters stands for:
G = Great - Assume your mentee is Great from the beginning no matter what - your job is to build them up from there.
R = Relate - Be sure to relate to your mentee and be personally involved. The more you are both connected to each other the more you will both get out of the mentoring relationship.
E = Ear - Be an Ear to your mentee and actively listen. Sometimes your job as a great mentor stops there because all the mentee needed was a person to bounce ideas off of. More than likely your active listening will lead to important questions that further a person's thinking and self-awareness.
A = Authentic - Authenticity is the key to a productive mentoring relationship. Be yourself always. You will quickly gain a lot of trust by being yourself and being honest. And besides you'll feel more comfortable.
T = Trustworthy - You can't have a relationship without the basic attribute of trustworthiness. You need to create a safe space for both yourself and the mentee to discuss and share anything that will move the relationship and personal growth along.

I've written about all of these ideas before in one way or another throughout this blog. Now I'm happy to finally capture it in one place so to speak.

Over the course of the coming weeks and months I'll be expanding on each of these areas and adding resources such as templates, links to information and related material on the website.

It's been my passion to make mentoring a worthwhile and life-changing pursuit for mentors, mentees and companies alike for nearly two decades. I will continue to post to this OnMentoring blog as I have the past 4+ years and continue to cover a variety of topics, answer questions, link to interesting articles etc. When something fits or can expand on the model I will be sure to include it there as well.

As always I'm very grateful for your readership. Keep those questions coming and keep MENTORING!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Peter Principle Evolved

I was reading an excellent article entitled "What Thomas L. Friedman Didn’t Report About Getting Hired by Google" by Gary Burnison, CEO at Korn/Ferry International. In this post he discusses the changed nature of the Peter Principle and the concept of something he calls "learning agility".

"The Peter Principle, which asserts that employees will continue to get promoted until they reach their highest level of incompetence, has evolved. Today employees don’t need to get promoted to become incompetent. They will become incompetent in their current jobs if they don’t grow, adapt, and evolve."

"The net-net is that most successful executives are able to move out of their comfort zone, take risks, learn from mistakes, and begin anew as they encounter new assignments. The successful leaders continually learn, bend, and flex as their work world changed. In other words, they were learning agile."
 - Gary Burnison, Chief Executive Officer at Korn/Ferry International

He found learning agility to be the #1 predictor of success. This makes a lot of sense. When we live in a world where a single tweet from an unverified source can be the catalyst of company skyrocketing on the NASDAQ or falling to be on the verge of bankruptcy adaptability will be the skill most sought after.

Gary's definition of the term "learning agility" includes self awareness and overall mental agility. Working with a mentor very often at a minimum leads to greater self awareness. A great mentor will challenge your established thoughts with targeted questions and personal stories. I've found working with my mentors that I was able to expand my problem solving approaches by learning their ways of framing a problem and arriving at a solution. I was also able to learn from their mistakes and more importantly decide whether their mistake would actually be the opposite - an answer - for me in my own situation. The ultimate achievement is to learn how to continually learn. Because I find continually learning - building a constant feedback loop - is the key to adaptability.

Learning agility is more than thinking out of the box. It's about not having a box in the first place. A mentor will help you make those boxes disappear. This is probably why a study conducted by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) found that 75% of executives attribute their success in part to having a mentor.

Good luck on your journey! I hope you find boxes disappearing and being replaced with green fields fertile with answers to your challenges.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Reader Question: Mentors for the Seasoned Professional

A reader wrote in and asked a great question: "How/where does a seasoned professional find a mentor to help him/her advance even further in their career, make a career change or simply provide ongoing advice and counsel?"

Thanks for that question! I have been thinking about an answer and wondered how much different would the approach to finding a mentor be if you were more advanced in your career rather than early on. I actually could not come up with any major differences.

I have authored two articles on finding mentors - "Tips for asking someone to be your mentor" and "Tips for finding a mentor when you're unemployed". In these articles I discuss developing a candidate mentor list. This is the first step to finding a mentor [edited below]:

Start off by making a list of folks that you already know that would make a good mentor in your opinion. Perhaps there's already someone in your life who you'd like to emulate and who has the time and inclination to do so. If you need help developing this list of mentor candidates then ask around. You should ask friends, family, current and former coworkers if they themselves have mentors or know people who do. It's all about networking!
Other suggestions to develop a candidate mentor list:
  1. Use your local industry group. Ask their leaders for ideas. Usually people who head local or national professional organizations have contacts who are willing to be mentors. They may even be interested in mentoring themselves.
  2. Your local religious group or organization may be a fruitful path. Private organizations such as these tend to cut across corporate hierarchical structure and afford you access to a wide variety of people too.
  3. If you work with vendors ask your contacts there for suggestions as they will likely know other folks in your industry (although you probably want to avoid people with whom you are in direct competition with).
The bottom line is to use your network. Networks are incredibly useful to help you find your next mentor or your next opportunity or even just some much needed advice.

As a seasoned professional myself I'm lucky to count among my informal mentors the CEO of a successful small digital media company and a world class public speaker and consultant in the digital marketing space. One was once a formal mentor and the other was a former co-worker albeit above me in the hierarchy. The key thing is to keep in touch and ensure the relationship remains meaningful to both parties.

You could also always consider going with a paid business/career coach. They've proven very effective with many a C-level professional who have retained their services.

I hope this post has been helpful. Good luck finding your mentor and keep those questions coming! If you have one click here to contact me.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Making Time for Mentoring

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I saw this article entitled "Yes, you do have time to mentor" authored by Laura Vanderkam and published by FastCompany which I just had to share because I agree with all of it's points (except for one - mentioned in a bit). That one exception aside the main message of the article is a truth for me. It goes on to make some excellent suggestions on how to fit mentoring into a busy schedule.

The scheduling tips from the article are listed below but I strongly encourage you to read the short article for additional, important context:

  6. BE A HOST.

Tip #3 "Mentor as you manage" goes on to state: "Hopefully, many people you want to mentor are, in fact, your direct reports". That's the one area where I diverge a bit from the article. Certainly a manager should always find ways to coach and enhance their employees' skills and overall career prospects. And I do recognize that management, coaching and mentoring overlap a lot. It is a recommendation though not to have your manager as a mentor because as a mentee you want to be as free as possible to speak your mind - sometimes about your manager. That could prove difficult when your mentor/manager also does your review and salary adjustment at year's end.

Go ahead and use these tips to fit mentoring into your life in some way. The activity benefits everyone involved. I'd like to leave you with my favorite phrase in the article:

"Mentoring is not a charitable act".