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3 non-business books that will improve your confidence at work

The other day I was having a conversation with someone about confidence in the workplace. I mentioned a book that I read a number of years ago on the subject which really changed the way I think about confidence, and gave me an armful of useful tools that I found incredibly helpful. This got me thinking about other books I recommend people read, so I’ve put together my top three work-and business-related books. These are not your run-of-the-mill, dry, ‘serious’ reads. They are not even books you would find in the business section of a bookshop. But they are books that are worth reading because they provide wonderful insights into the world @work, and how we can perform as our best selves at work.

The Confidence GapThe Confidence Gap, Russ Harris
Written by psychologist Russ Harris, The Confidence Gap is the perfect book for anyone who feels they are being held back by a lack of confidence.  Harris has written an approachable, easy-to-read book that explores how a lack of confidence can affect many areas of a person’s life, and looks at real, clear suggestions to work through it. It’s not an easy book to read in the sense that if you really want to make changes in this area you will have to have some tough, honest conversations with yourself. But it is easy in the sense that it is written in clear language, and breaks down complex concepts into easily understandable stories and ideas.

QuietQuiet, Susan Cain
This book explains what introverts are, how they tick, and what the pitfalls of introvert/extrovert interactions can be. I would recommend this books for introverts, extroverts and anyone who isn’t sure where they fall on the spectrum (but would like to figure this out). Cain looks at how the business world, especially in America, has for almost a century, celebrated extroverts and build a system that favours their personalities and mode of working. Cain argues that because this system is not designed for introverts, it is difficult and often tiring for them to navigate. However, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible for an introvert to not merely navigate, but to thrive in a world of extroverts. Cain provides tools and techniques for introverts negotiating the extroverted world of business, and for introverts and extroverts to figure out how best they can work together.

Unfinished BusinessUnfinished Business, Anne-Marie Slaughter
This book is (in my opinion) a sort of unofficial sequel to Lean In, the blockbuster work memoir written by Facebook CEO Cheryl Sandberg in 2013. It’s a look at how work-life balance is something worth striving for, but that the make-up of that balance may change over time. Slaughter says that it’s important to ‘lean in’ at times, but that it is just as important and necessary to be able to lean out at times too. She advocates for a world where we can accept a promotion and work like the devil for a couple of years, then dial things back for another couple of years, perhaps  to care for family members, or pursue study. Slaughter writes passionately and persuasively for her vision of a flexible and changing attitude to work over our lifetimes.

What are your top reads for personal and professional development?

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Posted in The Interchange Bench, The world @work

Your next job interview: How to present the best version of you

No matter how experienced you are, interviewing for a new role can be a stressful experience. Pressure from your current job (if you are working) and whatever else is going on in your life, such as family and financial stress, can dictate whether you are successful at interview.

Preparation is key. Understanding the role you are applying for and researching the organisation, and the managers or executives interviewing you, are integral to your ability to be en pointe during interview.

To give you the best chance of success, here are my ‘most likely’ from the Glassdoor’s Top 50 most often asked at interview. Nail these and you’ve nailed your interview:

  1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Why are you interested in working for us?
  3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
  4. Why do you want to leave your current company?
  5. Why was there a gap in your employment between these two dates?
  6. Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
  7. Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
  8. Describe yourself in 3 words?
  9. Give me an example of how you handled a difficult situation.
  10. Give a time when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project.
  11. Who are our competitors?
  12. What was your biggest failure?
  13. What motivates you?
  14. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.
  15. How do you handle pressure?
  16. What is the name of our CEO?
  17. What are your career goals?
  18. If I called your boss right now and asked him/her what is an area that you could improve on, what would he/she say?
  19. What was the last book you read for fun?
  20. What are your hobbies?

It is worth thinking through answers to the above questions. You don’t have to learn answers robotically, but it is a good idea to be prepared for these topics. There are often no right or wrong answers, it is about your confidence and the interviewers getting to know you as a person.

If you want to make a great first impression it is important to work out your ‘hook’. Telling a concise well planned story that displays your strengths, including a key characteristic you know they are looking for, is an excellent way to do it!

Give real examples of your strengths that are applicable to the role you are interviewing for; this will make it evident that you are a perfect fit for the role.

Prepare a list of follow-up questions to demonstrate your knowledge of the company, role and industry. Also, don’t be afraid to ask if there is anything missing in your skillset that they are looking for. It may be helpful to take a professional small hardcover notebook and refer to your notes, because when we are nervous, it is easy to forget what you had planned to say.

Mirroring the tone and pace of the interviewer is also a good way to appear relaxed and help you fit in with the interviewer’s style of communication.

Before you walk into the building take a ‘power pose’ and some deep breaths on the way up in the lift – this really helps your confidence.

Of course, honesty is always the best policy and being your authentic self shows integrity and confidence.

Interviewing is always going to be difficult and you may have to go through several rounds with panels of up to four people.

Stand out with your preparation, and don’t underestimate the effect of your personal presentation and polish. Ensure you are extremely well groomed, your clothes are comfortable for sitting and walking in… you’re one step closer to getting the job!

If you want to see the entire list, here are the 50 questions Glassdoor identified you are most likely to be asked during an interview.

What tips do you have for interview preparation?

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Posted in Slade Business Support

FRAGILE: Handle with care

In the world @work it’s easy to forget that people can have all sorts of other stuff going on in their life that makes them more or less vulnerable. Whether it’s financial strain, stress from their past or current workplace, contending with being made redundant or failing to make initial headway with job applications, there are myriad reasons why people might not cope well with a job interview.

A couple of times recently I’ve interviewed candidates who had good resumes and phone screened well, but at interview it was clear that all was not well in their world. Despite the usual nerves, there were some concerning signs that included being anxious, insecure and defensive; they were clearly people who were in desperate need of work.

These are always tricky situations that call on our professionalism, emotional intelligence and compassion.

As recruiters or hiring managers we spend a lot of time interviewing and we are generally very comfortable with the conversations we have with candidates. Before gathering information about their background, skills and work experience, we aim to put people at ease with some small talk and outline what it is we want to discuss. Sometimes it can feel like speed dating. Even when done well, it can feel a little invasive.

I’m sure I am not alone when I admit that I have struggled with my own job applications at various times in my career. You know how it goes, the contact person was elusive, the interview didn’t run smoothly or I brought a negative work experience to the table that didn’t add value to the discussion. I too have been frustrated because I thought my age or some time out of the workforce was a barrier to making progress. All of those emotions are best left outside the door when we apply for jobs.

Most times a skilled interviewer will put people at ease, overcome their interview anxiety and uncover the value they can bring to an employer. On those occasions when we can’t help a candidate further, we’re guided by respect for the person and our primary objective – to find the right person for the job.

Let’s be mindful that when hiring we are in a position to help or harm and everyone – every one – deserves respect. Take a few minutes to listen to Sting and Stevie Wonder perform Fragile in this video, which prompted me to pause and reflect.

How have you handled a fragile situation in a business context? What did you learn from the experience?

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

3 seconds is all it takes

Can it really be true that you can win or lose an audience in just three seconds? More on that later, but first here is my checklist for an engaging professional presentation:

  • Strategy – be prepared and have an agenda
  • Energy level – show interest in what you’re presenting, be animated, make it come alive
  • Key message – don’t fluff around, get the message out loud and proud
  • Sell yourself – don’t be shy to talk about your strengths
  • Voice – consider volume and your tone, are you being heard?
  • Non-verbal – think about your eye contact, hand gestures, facial expression, dress, movement, and body language
  • Wrap up – bring the presentation to a logical and timely conclusion

Recently I attended a committee meeting in Melbourne, where a well-known top tier law firm was presenting its services. I’ve often been impressed by switched-on business people who present strongly to an audience. They approach their subject matter positively, use appropriate language and the energy level in the room is high. They are also aware of their body language and dress appropriately.

In a news article about Natalie McKenna, Director of Regeneration Unlimited Communications and researcher in Public Relations at RMIT University, it’s said that “In just three seconds your business meeting could be over, with the business decision already made.”

Well, the lawyers’ presentations were woeful… boring, lifeless, forgettable… definitely over in the three seconds it took me to reach that conclusion!

When McKenna says all it takes is three seconds for someone to make a decision about you, that’s pretty tough. However, it doesn’t take long to lose your audience, and first impressions certainly do matter.

In business we’re often highly absorbed in talking about our product, our service, ourselves (the lawyers could show some passion for their profession here), without being really mindful of our audience. From my experience as a consultant with Slade Executive Recruitment and through my observations with global communications group rogenSi, I know how important it is to engage with others. The same principles apply whether it’s an information session, a sales pitch, a business meeting or a job interview.

What communication techniques have you found useful in your business?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Waving the Magic Wand

“If I could wave a magic wand to create a perfect career opportunity for you, what would it look like?” It’s a great question, isn’t it? A former colleague of mine used it in all her hiring interviews.

Open ended questions literally allow people to open up. You bring out a range of answers, which can sometimes be quite surprising. In recruitment, typical responses are: job stability, career progression, management style and company culture. Very rarely does money come up in this conversation.

One of the best responses that I have had in a job interview was from a return to work Mum who had applied for a full-time Sales Rep position in the Architecture & Design market – a role notoriously difficult to recruit for.  I asked her a magic wand question, only to discover that all she really wanted was flexibility. Her ideal wish? To divide three days in the office and on the road, then spend two days working from home, which would help achieve a balanced life with her little one.

We discussed the mutual benefits of a flexible approach and I presented this working arrangement to the prospective employer. My client was open to the concept, my candidate secured the role and now two years later, she has readjusted her schedule (how fast life changes!) to work four days a week and continues to exceed her targets.

If I had never asked my candidate an open question, I would never had known which options to explore with my client. Using open questions in interviews or even business in general, opens up opportunities to explore others’ needs when they may not otherwise be obvious.

As a recruiter I find it’s valuable to ask my candidates about their aspirations, rather than just look at their past experience and make an assumption. You get so much more insight about a person’s genuine motivators.

If you get a magic wand question and an answer doesn’t immediately come to mind, just respond with a smile and take it on notice: “That’s a really good question.” You’ve kept the option to explore it further during the conversation and can continue in a non-confrontational way.

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

One question that can ‘read anyone’s mind’…

Needing to know now is critical to the flow of business. Here is one question learned early in my ‘headhunting’ career that cuts through time and 100 questions.

When conducting an Executive Search or Selection assignment, my job is to determine whether a candidate is genuinely interested in the opportunity I’ve presented. Everyone’s flattered when a Headhunter casts their lure; it’s tempting to nibble at the bait.

As a Headhunter, though, it’s vital that I swiftly work out whether there is serious interest or whether a candidate is just fishing… for just enough information to angle for a better offer from their current employer.

To elicit the real answer is no easy task. Not getting an answer can set the hiring process back substantially, leading to a missed opportunity for both the employer and the candidate.

When we have to wait in trepidation on an answer, it more than likely turns out to be a “no”. Instinctively we know that the person has already made up their mind, but does not want to offend us with the truth. Or they could be stalling for time as they are pursuing their first preference… you know how it goes. Sometimes candidates come back to the table with a half “yes” and lots of messy provisos, which equate to a “no” in any case.

When an important decision needs to be made, I guarantee this one question will uncover a person’s intention, even if they do not intend to show their hand:

“Please visualise us getting to the end of this hiring process. Providing all the pieces come together – do not give me an answer now,  just what do you guess you will say to me?”

Stop talking and listen, because here comes the answer.

They will say something like, “Well I guess I will say yes, but I just need to think about it (overnight/run it past my family/see what my partner says/etc.).” That’s ok, this is going to be a “yes”.

If they hesitate, then duck and weave with something like, “Look I really don’t know, I can’t even guess, my mind is not clear, have really got to think about it more…” unfortunately it will be a “no”. Move on to whatever your Plan B is, because eventually people come back and confirm that “no”.

So next time you’re asked to guess an answer don’t worry, we are just trying to read your mind.

What methods do you use to uncover people’s thoughts in your world @work, I’d like to know?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Peering over that hill: Tips for mature workers

While ‘job for life’ opportunities do still exist, the reality is that most of us will change roles frequently throughout our working life. For people who are seeking a new role either by choice or necessity and who are in the twilight of their careers, the prospect of looking for a job can be stressful and challenging.

Without a doubt, the mature worker brings a host of capabilities and with a gap of nearly 50 years between the oldest and youngest workers in some organisations, these individuals are in a unique position to add value and mentor both directly and indirectly, bringing knowledge that only time and experience can provide.

If you’re facing the potential of a late change in your career, here are some tips to remind you exactly how much you bring to the (work) table:

  1. Employers are looking for results, not years. Talk about your achievements, identifying the benefits of having you as part of the company. No matter how small, draw attention to the great things you’ve done.
  2. Maturity isn’t something to apologise for! Celebrate the experience, resilience and stability that have come with time that younger workers aren’t able to demonstrate.
  3. Your experience may be intimidating to hiring managers with less tenure or experience, but with a little discretion and guidance, you can add value to help them fast track their own careers.
  4. Significant work on long-term projects or development over a series of shorter-term assignments provides further evidence of commitment to achieving outcomes. Sell yourself on ROI, highlighting your successful accomplishments by backing them up with cost-benefit facts.
  5. The likelihood of you needing time off for all of the usual life events is greatly reduced; you’re more reliable, dependable and you won’t let people down.
  6. It stands to reason that you have a great work ethic – more and more that isn’t a given and it makes you highly desirable to employers.
  7. You didn’t start texting until you had already learned how to spell. This is a huge advantage for professional correspondence. It’s likely that you will know the difference between there, their and they’re.

Be proud, keep reminding yourself that you’re experienced, maturity adds value and that makes you fabulous.

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work