Easily Have Professional References at the Ready

September 26th, 2016

SERIES: References–Stewarding the Relationship

Part 2: Maintaining a Reference Pool
So last time, we talked about general ways to go about securing references for yourself. Today, we’re focusing on how you maintain a pool of references so you always have them at the ready. By taking this step, you accomplish a couple things. One, your references will never feel frustrated that they only hear from you when you need a reference. And two, you’ll never have to rush around last-minute trying to pull together a list of people who are willing to be your reference.

pic-for-ref2-post

Steward the relationship
Thinking back to the last time someone helped you get a job offer by providing a reference, did you follow up with that reference to let them know the outcome? Hopefully, the answer is yes! Anytime someone has helped you, personally or professionally, they have some level of interest in seeing you succeed in whatever endeavor you are pursing. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be a reference for you! And since they are invested in your success, they will be elated to hear the big news and will feel good that they were able to help in some way.

The long-term outlook
And that initial step really segues nicely into the ongoing level of stewardship. Now that this reference knows that you got the job, keep them abreast on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be weekly or monthly but just throughout the year at opportune times (we’ll cover this more in detail in a few moments). The regular contact is a chance for you to share how the role is going, changes in your role and promotions you receive, and maybe even some big news that your company is celebrating.

Staying in touch the easy way
You can certainly set up reminders in your calendar to remind you that it’s time to check in with your contacts. However, LinkedIn is really a great resource to help simplify the process for you.

First, make sure you are connected to your supervisors and coworkers—past and present. Once you are, the system makes it very easy for you to come up with reasons to reach out to your contacts to check in with them. You receive alerts when someone changes jobs, gets a promotion within the company, or when they have an anniversary. What a great time to send a message to congratulate them! And meanwhile, you can give them an update on how you’re doing as well.

In addition to these features, LinkedIn also allows you to endorse your contacts for their skills. And even better, those endorsements help to boost the value of their profile to other viewers, so your contacts will appreciate the kind gesture.

Steward Away!
This isn’t meant to serve as the be-all, end-all list of reference stewardship, but it should help get you started on brainstorming some ideas. Whatever method you choose, what matters is that you find a way to build relationships for the long-term. Once you have that, asking for a reference will be effortless and instead feels like asking for a little help from an old friend.

Adam Lafield, Recruiter

Getting Fabulous References the Easy Way

September 20th, 2016

SERIES: References–Stewarding the Relationship

Part 1: Getting your references!
With there being so many challenging parts of the job-search process, references is one that oftentimes ends up overlooked…until it’s too late! It’s an exciting moment to finally make the cut and get to the point where your interviewer is asking for references, but that excitement quickly morphs into panic if you’re not prepared.

pic-for-ref1-postIn this first of three installments, we’re going to look at some general ideas on how you can proactively take control of references. Check back soon for the continuation of our references topic!

Creative ways to get references
First and foremost, always leave on good terms! Sometimes, this is easier said than done, but you’ll thank yourself in the future when you need a reference. It’s always unfortunate to have invested several years into an organization and not have a positive reference to vouch for your time spent there.

If someone leaves your current company and could be a reference for you in the future (even if you’re not looking for a new job at the time), definitely stay in touch! In a later installment, we’ll go over several ways you can go about staying in touch in very easy ways. This is super important in situations where you need a reference from your current position but you don’t want to alert your current supervisors that you’re thinking about leaving.

My company has a no references policy
This happens a lot, but it’s important to ask the question and see what happens anyway. If you ask for a reference, the worst that could happen is that you’ll get a “no.” But sometimes, folks are willing to give you their personal contact information so they can do it off the radar. Or some companies won’t allow a professional reference, but they may allow a personal reference (which frequently ends up morphing into a professional reference anyway).

Hopefully, this will be enough to get you started! The next blog topic will focus more on staying in touch with references so you always have them at your fingertips for when you need them. In the meantime, good luck with tackling your references strategy!

Contributors
Adam Lafield, Recruiter
Tiffany Appleton, Director, Accounting & Finance Division

Are You Doing Interview Follow-Up the Right Way?

September 8th, 2016

To follow up or not to follow up! This is the question we all ponder while sitting next to the phone, patiently waiting for a callback after an interview. While the answer on this question can vary from one interview to the next, there are certainly things you can do and rules of thumb to follow as a guideline.

During the interview
At some point in the conversation, the interviewer will ask if you have any questions. Of course, you’ll ask whatever brilliantly thought out questions you may have. However, one of your questions can and should be about the next steps in the process. And as part of that, include a question about when it would be a good time to follow up.

Never be afraid to ask! It’s not an unusual question and you aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes. They’ll let you know roughly where they are in the interview process and about how long they anticipate the process taking. And since you so eloquently asked, they’ll inform you as to when it would be appropriate for you to contact them to request an update. With that said, be sure you have a phone number or email (we’ll talk more about the email shortly) before you leave.

And last, it’s uncommon but possible for them to request that you not follow up with them. In that case, you would naturally accept that and simply wait to hear back. And if they do make this request, it’s not necessarily a negative sign at all. So never fear! Just take a breath and wait it out.

Rule of thumb
Forgot to ask during the interview? Don’t sweat it! A basic guideline to follow would be to check in about a week after your interview. If you got the sense from the interviewer that they plan to move really quickly on making a hire, you could possibly check in sooner. Just be careful with that as you wouldn’t want to come on too strongly. Being eager and excited about the position is a very good thing and will be appreciated, but coming across as pushy can certainly be a turnoff.

Saying thank you
In the days of email, this little step is so often forgotten! In a previous section, we emphasized getting an email address from the interviewer. This is so you can send a thank-you email after your interview. Back in the day of paper and pencil, a couple days was an acceptable timeframe. But now with email at our fingertips, it really should be within 24 hours. And to be honest, it doesn’t need to be anything lengthy or complex. It’s simply the thought, and interviewers really do appreciate getting these!

Adam Lafield, Recruiter

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood®

September 1st, 2016

SERIES: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
(Author Stephen Covey)

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood®

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. Most people listen with the intent to reply.” ~Stephen R. Covey

SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND

One of my biggest pet peeves is listening to two individuals conversing who think they are disagreeing, but in fact they are both saying the same thing. They just don’t know it because both are focused on getting their viewpoint across and not on understanding the other person. Sometimes a third party intervention is the only way to get them to stop and listen.

What does “Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood” mean?
We’ve all been there. The other person is talking and what are we doing? We are formulating in our head how we want to respond. Our first syllable blends into their last, and round and round we go. In conversations, especially ones in which there are disagreements, we are eager to make sure our voice is heard.

We know that communication is more than just words. Tone, body language, and facial expressions give meaning to what is being said. Truly understanding someone requires our full attention on their whole person. That is a lot of information to take in and process. If we are busy processing our own thoughts and emotions, we will miss a big part of their meaning and intentions.

When we listen with the intent to reply, we filter what is being said through our own lens. Our brain automatically reframes the input using the schemas we have built and lived through in our own lives. Consequently, we assume we know what the other person means or needs before they have thoroughly expressed themselves. We can find ourselves offering advice when none was sought, leaving our conversation partner feeling misunderstood and frustrated.

Seeking first to understand is not easy. It requires us to step away from our own bias and needs. It requires our full concentration and the ability to seek out a full comprehension. Only after we have done this do we “reply”.

How does this apply to my personal and professional life?
Relationships cannot exist without communication. Whether we are speaking with a family member, friend, co-worker, or customer, everyone wants to be understood. Everyone has a need for their voice to be heard and their thoughts to be valued. When we validate that need by first seeking to understand, we travel into the seed of human desires and connect with them at the core of who they are. A true connection can develop that establishes trust and a feeling of unconditional acceptance. A value cannot be placed on a trusted friendship. In business, becoming a trusted advisor to our clients and employees establishes long lasting relationships in which there is mutual benefit.

What can I do?

Seeking first to understand involves active listening. Active listening is something that many counselors are trained on in the mental health field. That is a field that requires trust to first be established between counselor and client before help can be given or received. Active listening is conveyed through non-verbal and verbal means of communication. Smiling, nodding, making eye contact, the way we are sitting all convey to the speaker we are engaged with them.

Verbal responses include asking questions for clarification, reflecting what they are saying, and positive reinforcement where we agree. Reflection is perhaps the most effective of these as it allows the speaker to hear back how we are receiving their message. They have the opportunity to feel understood or to correct any misinterpretations we may have. We show our focus is on them and that we truly want to connect and understand them.

It goes against our natural inclination to help others, defend a position, or assert ourselves. “Seeking first to understand” is a skill that must be honed over time. Practice of this essential skill can reap a vast reward in our relationship driven world.

~ Erin Counter, Operations Manager ~

Now You Can Be a Phone Etiquette Master

August 29th, 2016

Adobe SparkAre your phone skills getting in the way of your job search? And when we say “skills,” we’re not thinking about your word choice, phone demeanor, or anything along those lines (although, those certainly are important as well). No, what we’re actually alluding to for today’s blog would be more along the lines of etiquette for cell phone users-—so that basically includes all of us! We’re going to discuss a few basic but often overlooked ideas that could be undermining all your awesome efforts.

Phone Interviews
These days, a phone interview can happen just about anywhere. And well, that’s half the problem! Back in the day, a phone interview always happened on a landline (for anyone who still remembers what that is) and usually in the comfort of someone’s quiet home. But now with the convenience of cellular technology that puts mini computers in the palm of our hand, you can have a phone interview while driving the car, going grocery shopping, or even while on your lunch break.

Since on-the-go phone calls have become a part of society, it’s not always common-sensical to stop and reflect on any of this before making or taking a business phone call. So when the moment arises, take a quick check around your environment to see if there is anything going on that could sound odd or distracting on the phone. If there is a crying baby in the background or if you’re driving down the road with windows down, all of those are sounds that could put a damper on the phone call.

And aside from all the noise, doing anything on the phone (even walking!) will mean you’re not as fully present in the call, which usually means you won’t be your stellar self. Give yourself a break from all that multi-tasking and just bask in the moment of your interview so you can shine. And even better, staying focused on the call frees you up to have a pen and paper in hand to take notes.

And one last thing when it comes to phone interviews and calls, it never hurts to check the bars on your phone to make sure your signal is strong enough to support a call. For example, I was doing a reference check once on a weak connection. It took us half the reference call for the employer to realize that he was giving me feedback for the wrong employee!

Voicemail greetings

On the whole, voicemail greetings seem to be making improvements in leaps and bounds! However, it’s something many job seekers forget about, so it makes sense to give it a quick mention. When you have a moment, give a listen to your voicemail greeting so you can hear what prospective employers are hearing if they end up going to your voicemail. If it’s a custom greeting that you recorded, it’s good to mention your name and make sure the recording has a pleasant, professional sound to it. And of course, the prank-style voicemails aren’t usually the best way to go. But after your job search is done, you can always change it back!

~ Adam Lafield, Recruiter

Hiring Challenges and the Paradox of Choice

August 18th, 2016

Hiring Challenges - Choice.jpgOften times we are paralyzed when we have too many choices. Take a moment and think back to a childhood trip to the candy store or ice cream stand. Do you remember the overwhelming feeling of so many delicious choices? The desire for more options than you could choose? And the feeling of panic that you may choose the wrong one and have regrets? I frequently hear from hiring managers they have the same feelings when it is time to make a hiring decision.

Choice overload is a real thing; this psychological process has been studied within the retail world since the early 70’s. Making a decision can become overwhelming due to the many potential outcomes and risks that may result from making the wrong choice.

When it comes to making hiring decisions, there are some very simple processes you can put in place to mitigate the paralysis from too many choices.

  1. Skills Checklist: Create a simple checklist of “must have skills” and “nice to have skills.” Following each interview, quickly check the boxes for the skills the candidate has. This can help you more easily rule out the candidate you really connected with and liked, but didn’t quite have the right experience.
  2. Limit to 2 Choices at a Time: Force yourself to make a decision between only two choices at a time. For example, meet two people, choose who you like better and keep that person and let the other one go. After you meet the next person, again make a decision between this new person and the previous person. If you are always limiting yourself to two choices at a time, you are much less likely to get overwhelmed and can more easily make a decision.
  3. One Decision Maker: When you have an interview team involved, you now have differing opinions to take into account. Before the interview process starts, appoint one person as the official decision maker and give the other interviewers veto power only. This allows everyone involved to have a say and it will ensure a smoother decision making process.

By including a little bit of planning prior to beginning the interview process, you can significantly limit the paralysis of too many choices. I am not sure I can help you out with the dilemma of choosing the right candy or ice cream flavor, but these tips should certainly help with making your key hiring decisions.

“Tell Me About Yourself” with a Response You Can Be Proud Of

August 11th, 2016

By now, most of us are likely familiar with the classic interview questions. We’ve heard the question about strengths and weaknesses, where you see yourself in five years, and why you think you’re a good match for this position. However, the one that seems to plague most interviewees is the dreaded “tell me about yourself.” It’s a very gray-area type of question and can feel tricky to nail down because it’s so terribly non-specific! But never fear! With a little thought and preparation, anyone can have a brilliant answer to this question to wow just about any interviewer.

What does this question really mean?
For many interviewers, this question is a great way to get the interview started because it gives them a summary of you as an applicant. They see your resume, the experience, and the education and sometimes aren’t really sure where to start. So this question serves as a speed-dating type of icebreaker to get the ball rolling. And based on what you say, they can start their questioning and get the flow of the interview established.

What kind of information are they looking for?
In most cases, it’s about the professional details of your life. Things like your age, marital status, and any other information that interviewers aren’t allowed to ask you about directly are all things you can leave out of this response.

What you include depends a bit on where you are in your career path. For recent graduates, you may want to discuss applicable coursework, why you are interested in pursuing this role, and how a position like this would fit in with your overall career plan and goals. If you happen to have had internships or jobs that are applicable to this position, certainly bring that in as well!

For more experienced candidates, you have a bit more to work with and can focus on your career path and how that has led you to this position. If you’re making a career change, this is a great time to touch on that and introduce the idea into the conversation.

Regardless of where you are in your career, this is the time to shine and sell yourself. It’s best to avoid talking about gaps in employment or pointing out where your resume falls short for this role. If anything requires further explanation, the interviewer will certainly touch upon that with his/her questioning and give you a chance to elaborate. For now, just focus on looking brilliant to the interviewer!

How many details do I include?
Well, this is really an elevator speech all about you. As with most elevator speeches, you will have about 30-60 seconds. It’s not quite the right place to specify every accomplishment you’ve made with each job. Instead, it’s a big-picture summary. At some point in the interview, you’ll have a chance to elaborate in detail to further sell yourself.

Last piece of advice
And sometimes it feels a bit odd, but the best way to really keep the timeframe in check is to practice this out loud on your own. Verbalize your answer and see how it really feels as it comes out. After a few tries, you’ll be able to hone the language and fine-tune the timing. Don’t worry too much about getting the exact same words every time. It’s more about expressing all the ideas and just being yourself!

THINK WIN-WIN

July 15th, 2016

SERIES: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
(Author Stephen Covey)

Habit 4: Think Win-Win®

“You don’t have to blow out the other person’s light to let your own shine.” ~Bernard M. Baruch

Be proactive. Begin with the end in mind. Put first things first. These phrases emphasized the actions we would need to take when working towards our life’s goals. Now we move a bit deeper into ourselves as we explore the concept of “Think Win-Win”.

What does “Think Win-Win” mean?
This is not just a mantra to repeat to ourselves in negotiations or a simple technique to apply as needed. Thinking this way comes from who we are and how we interact with our fellow humans on a daily basis. It is a belief that in order for ourselves to be successful, someone else doesn’t need to fail. It means seeing life as a collaboration, not a competition.

How does that apply to my personal and professional development?
Our professional life gives us ample opportunity to approach relationships and inevitable conflicts with this in mind. In our interactions with others, we would have the mindset of finding resolutions that are mutually beneficial, on an individual and collective level. This doesn’t mean compromising our values. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Win-win means we find the solutions satisfying as well. Keeping integrity to our personal values is essential. However, we would express these values while considering the feelings of those we are working with. Recognize there is room for the feelings and desires of everyone. Allowing for another’s feelings does not compromise our own feelings or needs.

What can I do?
Find a balance between advocating for our ideas and beliefs and showing consideration for others is key to the win-win mentality. Being confident in the principles we live and work by will keep us happy and satisfied in the long term whatever we may be doing. It will send a consistent message, and others will know where we stand. Being empathic with our co-workers and others in our professional circle will demonstrate our maturity and willingness to understand and work in partnership with others.

“Think Win-Win”, or perhaps feel win-win, is a way of being. It is a team mentality. We are all in this together. Part of our personal and professional growth involves continually learning and expanding our view on matters. What better way to learn than from collaboration with others who are working for the same goals we are? In reference to our quote above, our light can shine even amidst other lights, and more lights will shine brighter together.

View a little more insight into Habit #4:

by Erin Counter

SERIES: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Author Stephen Covey)

May 11th, 2016

Habit 3: Put First Things First

“It is easy to say “no!” when there’s a deeper “yes!” burning inside.” ~Stephen Covey

As we continue our journey through the “7 Habits”, we will build upon our discussion of being proactive and making choices. We have also talked about envisioning, setting and working towards our ultimate goals. Part of this process involves finding a balance in managing our life’s values, roles, and priorities. We put first things first by managing our time through focusing on the priorities we envisioned in habit #2.

What does “putting first things first” mean?
We all know what it means to prioritize. However, different pressures and circumstances can easily distract us from where we prefer or intend to spend our time. We finally schedule some time to work on a project or on our hobby, and then our long lost friend wants to get together. We haven’t seen them in quite some time, and if we don’t say yes to their invitation, it may be a long time until we see them again because we have so much going on. These conflicts are common, and while there is no right decision, it can be difficult to say no when another’s emotions might be involved.

However, life is about balance. We can’t always say no to ourselves and yes to someone else’s priorities. The answer lies somewhere in focusing on our highest priorities. If our highest priority is to work on that novel we’ve been wanting to write, then friends may have to wait. If our highest priority is building and maintaining friendships, then hobbies will be put aside. It sounds simple, but in the moment when life is hectic and emotions are complex, reminding ourselves of our highest priorities, the ones we want to look back on having accomplished at the end of our lives, can help us not overextend ourselves in directions that will not get us there.

How does that apply to my personal and professional development?
If our professional growth is one of those “first things”, we need to take inventory of who and what will get us to where we want to go. Our primary goals and principles should guide us into focusing on what is important, and not necessarily urgent. Some “urgent” matters can wait and some important matters are not urgent. However, if your kitchen is on fire – that is urgent and important so feel free to take care of that first!

Thinking about the things that are important but not urgent is a focus on the long term. Exercising – there’s little immediate gain, but in the long run there is a huge benefit. Going back to school, or any type of professional education, is a huge investment of time and money. It’s not urgent, but its importance lies in the long term gain of becoming more effective in our profession.

What can I do?
We need to put the big rocks in the jar first. We all have an empty jar that represents our time. If we put all the unimportant things in first, there will be no room for the important ones. If we put the big, important values and goals in first, the other things somehow find a way to fit in around them. A continual reassessment of our values will help us on a daily or weekly basis manage our time and activities.

Part of this process can involve setting boundaries. Not letting others determine how we spend our time is an important step. This could be with family, colleagues, or clients. Others will let their needs (perhaps unwittingly) crowd out ours. By making a schedule or plan for our day, week, etc…and sticking to it, we can include other’s needs at times that make the most sense for us and our goals.

Focusing on our ultimate goals will help us find a time and place for everything and everyone else. As we feel more fulfilled by pursuing the things that matter most to us, everything else will naturally become part of our support system and something to be enjoyed rather than a hindrance to our destination. And the things that don’t really matter will naturally find their place or fade away.

See “First Things First” illustrated in the video attached here:

SERIES: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Author Stephen Covey)

April 12th, 2016

Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind

In a continuation of our series on “The 7 Habits”, we will build upon Habit #1 which involved being proactive in determining our responses. One of the questions we were encouraged to ask ourselves was, “Where are my energies focused?” Habit #2, as will be discussed below, encompasses focusing our time and energy on our end game – “beginning with the end in mind”.

“If you don’t know where you are going, than you probably won’t end up there.” ~Forrest Gump


What does being beginning with the end in mind mean?

Our wise friend “Forrest, Forrest Gump” put it simply above – you need to know where you are going in order to get there. When you embark on any journey, there is usually a destination in mind. There are many destinations, or milestones, we reach in life. What do we want to be, to have, to have accomplished when we get there? How do we know if the steps we are taking are going to get us there? Beginning with the end in mind means we take control (see habit #1 “Be Proactive”) and choose our thoughts and actions. We have taken the time to outline our purpose and our ultimate goals. We set the stage for taking deliberate steps in a specific direction.

How does that apply to my professional development?
We are all at different phases of life when it comes to our jobs and education. Perhaps we are presently unemployed and looking for work. Maybe we are working, but want a change or a receive a promotion. Possibly we are at the end of a long career and looking to transition into a different focus in life. Focusing on what we ultimately want to achieve in these areas will give us focus and open up opportunities where we may not be looking. It’s similar to the phenomenon of buying a new car. You buy a blue Toyota, and now everywhere you go, you see blue Toyotas. Focusing on our ultimate destination will have the same effect. Everything we experience will be one more thing connected to that final goal.

What can I do?
Covey advocates writing a personal mission statement. That can seem daunting, especially if we are trying to capture our life’s achievements on a piece of paper. There is no reason we can’t scale it down a bit. Let’s start with the end of the week. What do I want to have accomplished by the end of this week? Maybe we want to have had a job interview or finish a big project. Maybe our goals are more personal and we want to stop a bad habit or start a good one.

Whatever our mini-mission may be, writing it down as if it is a reality can really help. For example, my personal mission statement for this week could look like: I will have finished another blog post by Friday (almost there!). This is a shorter term focus than Covey advocates for, but I always find starting small is the best way to start a new habit. Then, once we accomplish week after week of completing our mission, we can expand our view further into the future. Of course, we can also start with the end of our lives, the end of a decade, the end of the year. Whatever works for your personal circumstances and goals is the best way to go about it.

The act of writing down our mission is powerful. It will give us a feeling that what we set out to do is already done. It’s just a matter of getting there. It can help clarify what it is you truly want. It will drive you to action. It will also keep you aware of opportunities as they prevent themselves. You will be more aware of the ways in which you can accomplish your goal. It will also help you to overcome obstacles. With a tangible benchmark, you will have something to celebrate as you reach your milestones and accomplishments.

View a summary of Habit #2 here: