Are You Doing Reference Checks the Right Way?

April 25th, 2017

Do you ever wish you could skip the reference checking portion of the interview process? It just seems so time consuming and you know they are only going to provide you with names of people who are going to say good things, so why bother? Your time is valuable and could be well spent elsewhere, right? Maybe, but if you approach your reference checking process a little differently, you may find it to be super helpful in both deciding on whether to make the hire and how to best manage the new hire once on board.

The first thing you should always do when checking a reference is to verify the nature of the working relationship between the potential hire and reference. Ideally, you are looking for a supervisor or managerial reference. You should be asking a question like “what was the nature of your working relationship with Susie?” If there is any question whether this person was a supervisor, you should follow-up with a direct question like “Did Susie report directly to you?” or “Were you responsible for Susie’s performance review?” Knowing the exact relationship here will provide context for the rest of the information you learn from the call.

From here, there are two basic ways to proceed, either with directed questions, or a general open-ended conversation. There are pros and cons for each.

The open ended approach can work well because you may learn things about the candidate that never came up in the interview process. This approach can allow for follow-up and clarifying questions too. Just be aware, the reference is going to stay very far away from anything negative and you will never learn about any challenges they may have had or any weaknesses.

With directed questions, you get to ask about exactly what you really want to know. This can work well for things like dependability, duties and responsibilities, and soft skills/personality traits. Just make sure your questions are phrased properly to uncover the information you are seeking. “Tell me about Susie’s dependability” is very different from “Was Susie consistently dependable?”

The ideal approach may be to ask a few key directed questions, and then follow-up with “What else should I know about Susie that we haven’t already discussed?” Be very attentive, because many times it is not what the reference says, it’s what they didn’t say that you should be keying in on.

If you perform multiple reference checks (and you should) it is very helpful to think about the common themes that shone through. These should be their key personality traits, the tasks they love to perform, and likely their preferred management style. One of the best things I learn through reference checks is how to best manage the new employee to ensure I am getting their best performance and they are appropriately challenged and happy.

Given the potential legal consequences, you know the person on the other end of the phone will choose their words carefully, and focus on the positive. But there are still many ways to ensure you get very useful information out of that 5-10 minute conversation.

~ Tiffany Appleton

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

April 18th, 2017

SERIES: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

(Author Stephen Covey)

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw®

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

~Abraham Lincoln~

Renewal. Reenergize. Revitalize. This is “Sharpen[ing] the Saw”. No matter our roles or goals, we cannot fulfill them if the vessel that holds our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self is not being honed for the journey.

As we’ve walked through the 7 Habits, each habit has helped us achieve focus, establish priorities, and collaborate with others. All habits take time to truly own. And achieving mastery over these is not a linear process. It is a cyclical one requiring continual renewal of our energies, a redirection of our path, and a striving toward balance in all areas of life. It is a shedding of an old skin and growth of a new, fresher one that can withstand old and new pressures put upon us with improved strength.

Sharpening the saw means a strong body, a dynamic, energized mind, passionate yet focused emotions, and a sensitive and giving spirit. Renewal of these aspects of ourselves looks different for each person. What we tap into to rebuild will depend upon our personalities, interests, and overall make up.

Take some time to think about what helps you renew your spirit. What makes you feel like YOU? Is it exercise? Perhaps socializing with friends? Reading a good book? Do you get renewed by spending time alone with your thoughts? For those of us who are introverted, alone time is essential to rebuilding our energy before facing the world again. Others are energized by more activity. Either way, it means making and taking the time for ourselves. It means stepping out of the mechanics of our usual routine to reconnect with our inner voice.

Just as chopping down a tree is so much easier with an axe that has been sharpened and primed for work, navigating our way through our own personal journeys will be as well with a rejuvenated mind, body, and spirit.

~ Erin Counter ~

I’m Sorry for Apologizing?

April 13th, 2017

So what is all this business with blogs that tell us to stop apologizing? Personally, I’ve been trained from childhood to be polite and just come to terms with accepting responsibility. Am I just being stubborn with embracing change, or is our world becoming a bit cold and devoid of feeling? Well, I hope it’s not nearly as dramatic as either of those! Really, it’s a matter of understanding the true meaning behind this and gleaning the items of value so we can utilize them.

Let’s start with some examples
One apology blog that I read painted the picture of some innocent individual walking down a hallway and apologizing for accidentally colliding with someone. This author said the individual should not apologize. Since the other person was also walking in said corridor, that person was equally at fault, making our protagonist’s apology superfluous.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit saddened by a world where we collide with others and don’t acknowledge it in some way! A quick apology seems quite acceptable there, or perhaps an “excuse me.”

It’s about word choice
A few days ago, I was brainstorming with a colleague in her workspace. She reached for her mug to grab a sip of tea, and my arm was sort of blocking the mug. I stifled an apology and instead said, “excuse me” as I moved my arm. I didn’t do anything wrong, and my colleague certainly was not expecting an apology. I just needed a couple words that would acknowledge that I was unknowingly in the way.

For many writers on the topic, their fear is that apologies either make us weak or that some of us apologize so often that the overuse can irritate others. So instead, I suggest that we find other words to express the same concept.

Let’s try another example. You’re running 15 minutes late for your appointments on a particular day. You have someone who arrived on time and has been waiting for you. Instead of staying “I’m sorry I’m running behind!” you can say “thank you so much for your patience!” This use of gratitude shifts the focus to a positive statement about how patient your customer or client is. And as added bonus, this positivity makes it less likely that your customer/client acts defensively about the delay since you have acknowledged it.

Keep in mind, of course, that sometimes we do have to apologize for being late. After all, I can’t show up to work 3 hours late and just thank everyone for their patience.

Sorry not sorry?
I think we all have at some point said something like “I’m sorry you took it that way” when someone interpreted our words in a way we did not intend. So here’s the problem. That’s not actually an apology—despite the “sorry.” It shifts the blame back onto the other person, implying that they are wrong for how they feel.

Something more effective might be “I’m sorry my words caused you to feel that way.” The negative impression wasn’t intended, but it still happened and people are all entitled to feel the way they feel. Taking on some responsibility tends to put the other party more at ease, allowing you to then rephrase things in a way more in line with your original intention. So yes, this is a case where “I’m sorry” goes a long way, provided it’s actually delivered as a true apology, of course.

Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

Adulting While Emailing: You Can Do It!

April 4th, 2017

In a world ravaged by text messages and a perpetual shortage of time, it seems our email etiquette has run amuck! Today, let’s have some fun looking at email faux pas to make sure our next professional email is on point.

Back to basics
What would you suppose are some of the key elements of the professional email you’re about to write? Some of you would say complete sentences, punctuation, a greeting, etc. And yes! You’re correct (see below). However, I’m thinking of something even more basic–your name. There’s a reason you used to get a couple hundred points on the SAT just for getting your name right. It’s sort of important!

Unique and intriguing usage of punctuation and grammar
“I’m sorry I missed your call! This job sounds great! Please call me when you have a moment! I’ll be available today between 3 and 5 pm! I love puppies!”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with our good buddy, the exclamation point. However, if used too much, it can feel like a caffeine overdose.


Did you even read the entire message? It’s hard to get through! There really isn’t anything terribly wrong with the content of that email, but the caps make it rather difficult to feel anything but overwhelmed when reading the text.

“i am good at customer service and have working in call centr for like 3 years call me if you like my resume”

The only way to make that more hilarious would be to mention that I also have excellent attention to detail. Let grammar check and spell check be your friend, but still don’t forget to proofread. And back to attention to detail; if that line appears in your resume, check it ten times to ensure there are no typos in that sentence. Believe me, it happens. A lot.

“Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse any typos”
I think I saved my favorite for last! Sending something from a mobile device does not disable our ability to proofread. There may be some limitations with formatting, but that’s ok. Overall, I think most of us look the other way if a little typo pops up, but mobile device or not, a professional email is still a professional email. And unless you’re driving while emailing (which I know none of us would EVER do, right?), the email systems on mobile devices don’t make it terribly challenging to ensure that your message is properly executed. In the end, it’s a matter of making sure our smart phones are making us smarter!

~ Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

Keeping Your Career on Track–The Easy Way

March 23rd, 2017

Keeping Your Career on Track–The Easy Way
Part 2

This week, we continue our career path topic and delve into the slightly more complicated subject of what to do when you either don’t have career growth options with the current company or you have options but no mentorship infrastructure to help guide you on your way.

Your current employer isn’t in line with your ultimate goal
This scenario can exist if there are no positions to grow into, if there is no turnover that would allow growth, or if your current employer is not the industry you’re interested in pursuing. Nearly every situation adds value of some kind to your experience and to your skillset, so this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to jump ship right away. Depending on your situation, you may want to have a talk with your current manager to let them know where you are. The open approach is ideal but not always an option, depending on your individual situation and the type of manager/supervisor you have.

But either way, start thinking about companies and opportunities that could be a good next step. Since you have a job and income to pay your bills, you can take some time to evaluate options and the next steps that will best serve your ultimate goal. Try to find companies that offer lots of room for growth so you don’t have to jump around too much to make steps up the ladder. And in larger companies, you would likely have a manager to assist you in reaching your goals.

You’re working with a difficult manager
Let’s say you’re working for a company that does have opportunities for growth, which we discussed in last week’s post; however, what should you do if your manager is not someone who is going to help you grow?

The most effective leaders get to know their employees, their strengths, and their interests. And with that information, they work with the employee to create goals and assist that individual through the career process. When this happens, the employee is happy, and the company is successful. It creates a win-win scenario. But what do you do if your manager will not be of assistance when it comes to your career? There are several possible outcomes, and there is no one blog that can really tell you what to do. But with that said, we can at least try to give you some ideas of where to start.

You may be in a situation where you can still grow within the company but will need to do so of your own volition. In this scenario, you would be responsible for learning more about the opportunities available, the process, and also setting yourself up with goals and a path.

In some cases, you may find HR to be helpful. They may be able to offer information about possible career options or even refer you to other contacts in the company who could help. Or within your department, maybe there’s another coworker who has gone through the growth process and can give you some helpful feedback. Mentorship comes in many forms!

The last (and most unfortunate possibility) is that you may have to find another job. While I don’t like to encourage a dramatic course of action like this, it’s also important to realize that your career path and career planning are a very big deal. If you don’t have a way to set yourself up for success, it will make the process significantly more challenging and will reduce your chance of reaching your goals. Don’t jump to this conclusion too quickly, but also don’t underestimate the value of your path.

Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

Keeping Your Career on Track–The Easy Way

March 14th, 2017

Keeping Your Career on Track–The Easy Way
Part 1

Feeling good about how your career is progressing? If so, then right on! Keep up the good work. But if you’re feeling like you’ve strayed from the path a bit, that’s ok! It’s actually really easy to get caught up in what I would call the daily operations routine, immersed in the small picture of day-to-day life. But when that happens, it can pull us away from accomplishing our career goals. There’s no time like the present, however, to step back and look at the big picture for the sake of some strategic career planning.

First step
Where do you want to be in your career? Are you dreaming of becoming a digital marketing manager, a senior accountant, or an HR administrator? As you can imagine, they all have drastically different paths. At the big-picture level, try simply to get an idea of where you want to be. And it’s totally ok for that goal to fluctuate over time as you grow. We’re not looking to etch anything in stone right now; we just need a starting point.

Once you have that goal in mind, let’s take a look at your current situation to see how well it aligns you with your career path.

1. What type of company are you working in?
2. Is your company in the industry that you want?
3. What types of opportunities do they have that could help you on your path?
4. And if they have positions that are conducive to your path, how likely is it that you could get one of those jobs? For example, if there is no turnover in those roles, it may be difficult to find your way in.
5. Or maybe your company simply doesn’t have opportunities. What do you do then?

For this week, we’re focused on the scenario where you have options with your current company. In the next installment, we’ll look at other scenarios, so check back soon to get the full scoop!

What’s next?
It’s time to have an open conversation with your supervisor/manager, if you haven’t done so already. This is where you set the scene with a mentor who will help with your path. When your manager has the big picture of where you hope to go, he or she can start setting the stage for you and guide you all the way to the top.

During this talk, ask about the steps and what the progression looks like. Take notes. Set up an actual game plan so you know what to do on a daily basis to keep the process going. They give you the tools, but you’re ultimately the one who’s responsible for actually making it happen. So moving forward, you’ll want to have regular meetings to check in and make sure everything is on track. This way, you’re maintaining the big-picture focus while also ensuring that daily, weekly, and monthly steps are happening.

And along the way, you’ll receive coaching and all the help you need to keep honing skills that will make you marketable for the next position within your path. This process of reflection and mentorship are things you’ll do all the way up the ladder. And someday, you may have the chance to pay it forward by coaching a junior employee with similar aspirations!

~ Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

Handle that Next Job Fair Like a Pro!

March 7th, 2017

Ready to amp up your job search? Spring is just around the corner! In the world of job searches, that can only mean one thing—-time for job fairs! Let’s look at some simple ways to shine at jobs fairs and also brief you on how job fairs can be a helpful resource.

As always, our suggestion is to put your best foot forward. The rule of thumb? Dress for success! A typical job fair will feel like a series of very short interviews, so why not wear interview attire? That day, the job fair folks you speak to are going to chat with a large number of potential applicants, making it easy for them to forget their interaction with you. Interview attire can be a great way to really stand out from the pack-—in a good way. And conversely, it’s quite possible to stand out in the not-so-good way if you show up dressed extremely casually.

When it comes to expectations, it’s best not to have any. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your homework or prepare. Certainly, check out the employers ahead of time and make a list of your must-meet representatives. But going into the actual fair, expect to plant a lot of seeds having no idea which ones will grow.

By that I simply mean that a job fair isn’t necessarily a place where you find a specific job you would like to apply to. In your conversations, you can check with the rep to see what they have for current jobs, but a better investment of this opportunity is to have a conversation. The question about open jobs seems productive at first, but any job listings a rep has could change so quickly that you could spend time pursuing a specific role that ends up no longer available by the time you complete the application process. Or on the other extreme, you may skip over a company due to lack of interesting opportunities at the fair and then miss out a few weeks later if they suddenly have a job opening that would have been perfect for you. It’s impossible to see exactly what lies ahead, so the best approach is to assume that everyone you meet could be your next stepping stone into a great career.

What do I say?
Talk to everyone! As we mentioned in the above section, target your must-meet vendors but also stop by and visit with the other reps because you never know who will be able to help you. Ask them about their company, the culture, the types of roles they typically see come up, etc. And in having that conversation, you’re forming a relationship with the rep and letting them know that you’re not looking for a job; you’re looking for a career. So if something does come up on their website after the fair, you can apply for the job but then also contact that rep directly and improve your chances of getting in the door for the interview.

Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

How to Interview Like a Boss–The Candidate Edition

February 28th, 2017

Interviews tend to take one of two approaches: conversational or structured. In the structured model, the candidate faces a focused series of questions, sort of like an interrogation. And as the name implies, the conversational option is a natural discourse where questions are asked, but most of the information is gathered through what feels like a relaxed interaction. Since one has no way to know which method an interviewer will take, it’s important to be prepared for either.

The structured method
For most candidates, it seems like structured is not their first choice. Admittedly, it can seem stiff and rigid. And in most cases, it doesn’t easily allow a candidate many opportunities to bring his/her personality into the mix, but there are still some redeeming qualities. First, this method is very direct and straightforward; one doesn’t usually find a lot of surprises here, so it’s very easy to prepare. And second, you can still find ways to let your personality shine! The questions may be delivered a bit systematically, but your response can still be complete and something that reflects your unique personality. Some interviewers won’t outwardly respond to your personalization efforts; some won’t even crack a smile. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t find ways to add your personal touch.

Also, it can be challenging to maintain a steady pace with answering. Since the interview tends to feel quicker without the small talk, candidates often rush their answers. The good news: there is absolutely no rule that requires you to rush. After the question, it’s still ok to reflect for a few moments to formulate your response. And when you deliver your answer, you aren’t required to give a rapid-fire answer. Take your time to deliver a thorough and intelligent response, and again, let your personality shine!

The conversational method
As candidates, why do we all love this one so much? It makes us feel comfortable! The reality is that interviews can be stressful, and it seems less painful if we can at least relax and be ourselves, right? This is true, but it can have a way of hurting us if we’re not careful.

By getting candidates in a more relaxed state of mind, interviewers can oftentimes get a less filtered response. All of this can be a very good thing for candidates unless we become so comfortable that we stop choosing words thoughtfully. For example, let’s say you have a great way to explain why your manager was the reason you left your last job. However, if you feel overly comfortable with your interviewer, you may casually mention that you left because your supervisor was nothing more than a paper-pushing middle manager with a Napoleon complex. That doesn’t sound quite as nice as the explanation that involved work/life balance issues and concerns with a management style that would occasionally feel like micromanagement.

Final thoughts
In short, neither of these methods is right or wrong, and both are effective at capturing information, despite their opposing approaches. With a little self-reflection and some planning, you can easily be a success regardless of your interviewer’s approach.

~ Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

How to Interview Like a Boss

February 22nd, 2017

Have you ever thought about why you interview the way you do? Is it because of training you received, or maybe it is a result of the comfort level you felt while on the other side of the interview table. Very few hiring managers have ever received formal training on how to successfully conduct interviews when looking for new team members. Since hiring the right people is an essential part of company success, choosing the right interview style is also essential.

There are many different ways to conduct an interview, but from a fundamental standpoint, you will use either a conversational or structured format.

Structured Interview:
The structured interview is more formal, and as it sounds – structured in format. For this type of interview you will have a prepared list of questions for the interviewee. To the candidate, this type of interview may feel like they are a contestant on a quiz show. The structured interview is great for digging into technical skills, subject matter knowledge, and details on prior work experience. At times, this interview can be more stressful for the candidate and can provide you with some insight into how they may perform under pressure. The downside to the quiz show method is the limited ability to get insight into the candidate’s personality and feel for cultural fit within the team.

Conversational Interview:
The conversational format is typically more free-flowing, informal, and may feel more like you are having a conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee. Usually the interview starts with reviewing the resume and follow-up questions naturally flow based upon the answers provided. This type of interview is typically more comfortable for the interviewee and allows them to open up and share more of their personality allowing you some insight into a potential team fit. Sometimes the candidate may overshare and tell you things you need to disregard as part of the hiring decision process because the topics are off-limits from a legal standpoint, like health issues, marital and family status, age, etc. As a possible downside, you may realize after the interview you didn’t ask some key questions you intended to ask because the conversation took a different direction. This can make the decision how to proceed forward with the candidate more challenging.

How should you pick which method to use? Well, it depends on a few things. First, the method that appeals most to your personality might be the most comfortable for you and therefore yield the best results. Sometimes it may be situational. If you want to really learn more about their technical skills, knowledge and experience, you may need to default to a structured interview. On the other hand, maybe you are on the second interview and feel confident the skills are there and need to determine cultural fit, so a conversational format may be ideal.

Preparing for an interview requires some preplanning and choosing your interview style is one key ingredient in the recipe for hiring the right talent.

~ Written by Tiffany Appleton

THE BRIEF: Grow BIG by Thinking Small

February 14th, 2017

Success, one idea at a time

Grow BIG By Thinking small
It’s easy to set a goal and not accomplish it. That’s what most of us do. It’s not that we don’t appreciate how great it would be to set and achieve goals, but this little thing called human nature stands in our way, pretty consistently. The idea of reaching for something “great” ahead can be consumed by fear and intimidation as soon as we realize there are 52 steps between us and our intended destination. (Exaggerating of course, unless you are climbing the pyramid at Chitzen Itza, then we’re talking 91 steps to the top.)

Why It’s Important to Think Small

“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs” – Henry Ford

Success is contingent on the ability to think small. We are talking increments. Steps. Stages. Tiers. Henry Ford was a success story, not because he was immune to feelings of discouragement or fear. He is an icon of business innovation and success because he recognized the challenge to stick to his goals and did something about it. He dreamed of the big picture, and focused on the smaller steps to get there.

How We Grow Big By Thinking Small
Growing big means success. From the moment children can speak, they often refer to their size and desire to “get big”. They recognize that with both physical stature and ability, the world is their oyster. Where do we want to “get big”? Where do we want to improve and grow? In both our personal and professional lives, the possibilities are endless. Like Henry Ford, our success is dependent on our ability to think small. Here’s how you do it:

Focus on one step. Own it. The completion of one step will prepare you for the next.

Looking to bring physical order to your office space? Don’t think the entire space. Think: 1 file to close, 1 corner of the room to organize, 1 item to eliminate. Looking to make headway on a passion project? Don’t think building a company. Think: 1 inspiring conversation, 1 phone call to a potential client, draft 1 email to s