Monday, 6 August 2012

A useless list to help with your job hunt

Given the size of the world wide web, we all know that when searching for anything, you stand a good chance of stumbling across a significant amount of junk. I have been astounded however, by the amount of dross posted regarding "hints for job interviews", usually in the form of a "Top 10 ways to improve your chances" or "Top 10 reasons you will fluff your interview".

I am so infuriated by the lack of effort that has gone into these lists, which tend to include examples such as "Turn up on time" or "check that you are applying for a job that you can do", that I thought I would have a stab at creating my own list.

Top 10 Ways to improve your chances at job interview

10. Bribe the recruiter

9. Blackmail the recruiter

8. Kidnap the recruiter's pet and demand a job in return for its release

7. Don't turn up naked

6. Don't have bad hygiene

5. Listen to the questions

4. Demonstrate brand loyalty
If you don't get the picture above, read the story:

3. Don't diss the interviewer with rudeness

2. Use flattery

1. Apply for a job that you can actually do

(and yes, for those of you that properly read the introduction, this is deliberate, as a parody to the tripe currently available on the net!)

Hopefully, if you carefully and diligently follow the ten steps outlined above, you will be more successful that I am currently being (please don't take this as a sign that my advice may be less than worthwhile. It is just down to bad luck that I have not yet found a suitable role!), and will find yourself gainfully employed in no time at all...

And if you are stuck on the unemployment roster for a bit longer, some words of comfort from Hal Lancaster:

"Getting fired is nature’s way of telling you that you had the wrong job in the first place"

Friday, 3 August 2012

Overqualified for the role

What is it about recruiting companies that when looking for candidates they somehow drop into the Dilbert parallel universe? I am getting really fed up with my quote of the month from responding companies, "We have chosen not to take your application further as you are overqualified for the role".

What does this mean?

If you consider any other facet of life, could you contemplate a similar comment?

- On boarding a plane
 "Sorry dear, let's not catch this flight. The pilot is far too qualified"

- On surgery.
"I am concerned that the surgeon is overqualified to perform my bypass. Do you have an inexperienced intern who could operate on me?"

- On Dining out.
"Please don't let the chef cook our puffer fish. I would much rather that the unqualified trainee have a go"

This is obviously nonsensical. In any given situation, having someone who is better at doing the role than not is invariably a benefit, so why is it that (particularly consumer goods) companies feel this urge to reject talent? It also ignore any aspects of motivation, passion, desire or attitude.

I have come to the conclusion (through painful personal experience) that there can only be one of five translations of "You are overqualified" from Dilbertese back into English...

1. We actually have found a suitable candidate internally, which means that we will not have to pay the recruitment agency any commission. We are embarrassed at all of the time and effort that we have wasted, do not want to appear stupid and unprofessional to our recruiter, to you or to our senior management, so are going to reject you by saying that you are overqualified.

2. We are operating a standard check box profile, and your expertise is greater than that required. We are therefore in a quandary as to what to check, and have taken the easy option of ticking the "N/A" box. Unfortunately, this has created a low score for you, and despite the fact that I am a human being and not a computer, I am going to leave my brain switched off, and reject you by saying that you are overqualified.

3. As recruiting manager, your capability terrifies me, and I can see you replacing me and doing my job better than I can within a very short space of time. Since I am an insecure individual, totally focussed upon my own issues and needs, and not at all interested in the benefit to the wider business to bring in great talent, I am going to ensure that my boss never sees you, and reject you by saying that you are overqualified.

4. We accept that you have great skills, but are more concerned about how long people stay in role, rather than how well they perform. As such, we are concerned that you might actually succeed at this job too quickly (which would make everybody else look bad and lazy) and would give us a problem in rewarding / promoting you too quickly, in case it set a precedent (despite your performance). Given that this is all just unnecessary complications, despite the obvious benefit that it would bring to the business), we are going to chose a second-rate candidate over you, and reject you by saying that you are overqualified.

5. There is actually something wrong between your skill set / experience / talent and the role that we are recruiting for, but since we are not going to recruit you, and you mean nothing to us, we cannot be bothered with taking the time to invest in giving you useful developmental feedback (which may help you secure a job somewhere else, be of greater benefit to society, and avoid being a burden to the state), we are just going to fudge it and reject you by saying that you are overqualified.

“Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you are willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.”  Lou Holtz

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Relativity and the Doors of Perception

Albert Einstein, describing relativity, once said "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute."

This relativistic nature of time perfectly sums up how I was feeling today, when I received a voice mail. The situation was entirely of my own making - I was in my car, driving back from another interview, when I saw the missed call and voicemail icon ping in. Since my roof was down (I have a little Mazda MX5 / Miata), I couldn't answer the call, or call back immediately, but when I stoped at some traffic lights, I decided to quickly listen to the message, at this point not knowing who it was from.

The message turned out to be from one of the companies that I have interviewed with, asking me to give them a call back. Nothing more, nothing less - no indication as to whether it was good news or a rejection.

How I wished that I had not listened to that message at that time! Instead of a nice drive home in the sunshine, relaxing after what had been a really positive interview, I spent the entire journey - which felt like every minute was an hour - analysing the voicemail in my head. Had that intonation been negative? Why had the assistant rung rather than the hiring manager?

And to really rub salt into the wound, I made it home at 5 minutes to 5, immediately put a call in, only to get her voicemail, and no return call ... So I now have to wait until tomorrow to find out what the call is going to say.

My wrong-headed decision to quickly listen to the message raises an important point about decision making, something that I have tought again and again to my teams, but in true slapstick fashion, failed to take heed of myself.

Circles of Influence/ Concern
When dealing with difficult situations, there are two circles - the circle of influence, and the circle of concern.

Within the Circle of Influence lies everything that you are able to influence, and have an effect upon.
Within the Circle of Concern lie all of the things which you cannot affect, but often waste energy and effort worrying about.

If you can successfully increase your level of influence, by being positive and proactive, the corollary is that you decrease the size of the Circle of Concern. If however, you are passive and reactive, your influence will decrease, and your concerns will grow.

This was the trap that I fell into today - I should never have listened to the message. I was not in a position to do anything about the message, and listening or not listening to it would not have changed the nature of the message. All I did was create a concern born of uncertainty and unknowing, which achieved nothing but to relativistically turn two hours of my life into a drawn out journey of concern, draining me of positivity, calmness and energy.

"There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception"
Aldous Huxley

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Perspective and Paradigm Shifts

It doesn't take much to create a paradigm shift in your life...

I was having what I would consider a "bad day" in my job hunting endeavours - one rejection, no follow up calls (two of which had been promised for today), and very little through my network or on the job boards of interest.

Then my daughter screamed from outside, where she was playing on the trampoline, and was just repeating over and over "my neck, my neck hurts".

In that instant, all of my worries about work transformed into petty irritations, if not total irrelevancies, and all of my focus was on my daughter, and hoping that she had not just permanently damaged herself.

Fortunately, one frozen pack of peas, some TLC, a cookie and one of her favourite TV programmes later, the neck pain had declined to merely "sore", and I felt that I was able to breathe again.

This episode though, does just highlight the importance of maintaining the appropriate mindset with regards to whatever you are doing. Whether it is job hunting (as in my case), working towards a presentation deadline, going for promotion, getting engaged, married, having your first child, it is important to ensure that you are not getting wrapped up in an introspective bubble, distorting your fears and concerns out of all proportion.

With planning and preparation, you will not need an accident as befell us to snap you out of your existing paradigm - merely having a preprepared mental image of "what if" ought to be enough to rearrange your priorities, and help you keep everything in proportion.

If you have not read "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", by Stephen Covey (recently passed away, RIP), I strongly recommend doing so. Even if you do not agree with all of the content (as I do not), there is nonetheless something for everyone to take away and improve their self awareness and interactions with others.

“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” 
George Eliot

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Nine things successful people do differently

I came across this great article from Heidi Grant Halvorson this morning, which agrees with and expands on some of the discussions that I have been covering inmy earlier blogs. A really useful concise summary on how to facilitate achieving your goals.$G6$O:WHu+dxYd/

Choosing a path

Despite being a confident, capable person, I am finding that looking for work whilst unemployed is particularly challenging. It is not just the feelings of failure - not being able to provide the income to keep my family in the way that I want to, being "passed over" in preference to others by potential employers - but a larger issue around life choices.

On the one hand, I am trying to stay focussed and targeted on finding my next role. Spending hours every day networking with old contacts, trolling job sites for suitable opportunities, building relationships with Recruitment agencies / talent managers / key decision makers in potential businesses  keeps me busy and focused on a clear goal, which I can measure simply as success /failure (depending on whether I get a job or not)

On the other hand, I am at home every day, am finding time to exercise, relax, catch up on missed films and books, and spending loads of hapy and fun quality time with my wife and kids.

This raised the really challenging issue of whether I SHOULD be looking for another full-time, corporate, rat-race role, or ought to consider using this opportunity to do something completely different, that maintains a much better work/life balance. The reason that I say challenging, is for the following reason:

Am I thinking that a change in approach to life is the right thing to do because it would provide more quality of life, or is it a cop-out, and an excuse to not have to keep submitting myself to the risk of rejection and failure at every job interview? It is far too easy to end up going round in circles, and arguing both sides of the issue, and the real problem is that ultimately I am greedy, and want to both have my cake and eat it - to have a great corporate job that is stretching, interesting and fulfilling, whislt still having the time to exercise, relax and have plenty of quality time with my family...

As an aside, have you ever noticed how most of those who choose to leave the rate race and down-size to live in the country, always had jobs such as Investment Banker, and are walking away with mllions in the bank? I've always thought that it would indeed be an easy choice, and significantly easier to implement, if the two sides of the coin were:

a) Keep earning a filthy amount of money every year
b) Retire to take up full time hobbies such as Ferrari driving and holidaying in Monte Carlo, whilst watching your accrued savings rack up huge amounts of interest to fund your lifestyle.

So very different from:

a) Keep working tremendously hard to just about keep your family in food, clothes and a holiday once a year
b) Down-size and live in a commune where, although you get to spend quality time with you family, you worry yourself into an early grave from always wondering where the next paycheck is going to come from to pay the food bill, and you can never afford to take your kids on holiday...

Monday, 30 July 2012

Mental Attitude

I had an interview today.

Reading an article on the BBC site ( made me challenge myself with some interesting questions...

1. Should I approach every job interview with an overwhelmingly single-minded belief that I will get the job, in the expectation that all of that positive mental energy fizzing around will rub off on the interviewer, make me raise my game, and make me an irresistible hire; or would my PMA come across as arrogance, and make me effectively unemployable?

2. Should I approach every job interview with an anticipation of failure in my head, with the risk that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I successfully talk myself out of every role; or does that heightened sense of failure make me sharpen my answers, provide me with an element of humility, and make me more likely to succeed?

As with all approached, there are pro's and con's to both sides of the argument, and as can be seen with the sporting experts in the BBC article, there are often widely diametrically opposed (and even entrenched) positions.

My personal view is a shade of grey (no, not one of those 50!). I think that you need to plan for success, taking the time to clearly scope out your strengths, weaknesses, competencies and examples, aligned specifically to the requirement sof the job spec, but that you need to approach every interview with a pragmatic realism.

Everything else being equal, you have a statistical chance of 1 in about 4 (if you make it to final interview). To think that you are so much better than the other 3 or so candidates also being interviewed is bordering on delusion, and it is much better to accept those odds, and work onmaximising your chances throughpractice and excellence, than relying purely on PMA.

The maxim to apply is "the more I practice, the luckier I get".
(variously attributed to Gary Player, Jerry Barber, Lee Trevio, Arnold Palmer and Sam Goldwyn amonst others!)

If you have any views, opposing or supportive, I would be interested to hear them.