Blog Archives

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

The fly on the wall

So you’ve made it to the interview stage and you’re one step closer to getting the job. But did you realise that sometimes an assessment begins the moment you walk through the front door?

Welcome to our office. I’m the receptionist. The friendly face who will greet you, make you comfortable while you wait for your appointment, and introduce you to your consultant.

Most people think the job interview itself is the deal-breaker. Certainly it’s a key factor in the selection process. But in my experience making a stand-out impression doesn’t just begin when you sit down with an interviewer.

Over the past five years as a receptionist in the recruitment industry, I’ve often found that our consultants want to meet candidates who have the right skill set, experience and look like the right cultural fit.

You’ve dressed to impress (because first impressions do count), arrived ahead of time and dealt with the paperwork.

Now there’s a few minutes before your appointment. Sit tight and resist the temptation to stick your chewing gum to underside of our coffee table. You’d be horrified by what we discovered when moving offices in the past.

Shortly I will walk with you from the front desk to the interview room and in that time, get to know a little about your personality before handing over to your consultant. At this point, check in with yourself: ‘Is she just the receptionist?’

Showing all the brilliant sides that make you ‘the best’ for 30 minutes to an hour is easy. But sometimes I’ve seen candidates let their real ‘me’ out of the bag once an interview is over.  After you’ve interviewed, a shorter interview takes place. Consultant’s check-in with me. How did you interact with the receptionist?

Practice your perfect pitch again on the way out. Eyes are still watching you. Elevator walls have ears too.

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Posted in The world @work

Playing from a 10.

It’s no secret Australians love mobile technology. Gizmodo reports over 97% now own smart phones. But we often forget we’re carrying the most sophisticated mobile tech of all above our neck. Using your mind in business sounds like a no-brainer, so it’s surprising to learn that our ‘necktop computers’ are often the least used.

I recently attended a networking luncheon at RogenSi, an international communications consultancy, best known for assisting the Australian Olympic Committee to successfully win the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Having the confidence to bid for an Olympic Games may be beyond the reach of most, but RogenSi Melbourne Director, James Cumming, makes an interesting point. He links confidence to attitude, a mindset for success. James calls it “Playing from a 10”.

According to James, this is what you need to do to prepare for your next business meeting, job interview or a sporting match, to get yourself in the right state of mind to be the most confident you can be: Imagine yourself at a 10. This is where you’re switched on, on the ball, bulletproof, pumped and ready to take on the world!  In this state of mind you’re going to do your best work. You’re going to give it your best shot.

Those times you’re feeling flat, disinterested, lazy, or uninspired? You’re not playing at your best, you’re playing from a 1. It’s an unproductive state of mind.

The numbers make sense to me. Of course in the real world, we can’t always be a perfect 10, but let me share a few tips from James to help bring you closer to 10 than 1.

  1. Your mind’s a ‘video vault’. To access your video memory bank, think about your past successes. That could be a great interview, a positive meeting or a sales pitch that went well in the past. Replay your mind’s video, remembering how you felt engaged at the time. Accessing that confident feeling from your mind’s video library brings it to your present. World champion athletes have been using visualisation for years. It’s a trick of the mind, and it works.
  1. Think about your non-verbal communication – the way you are using your voice, your body language, your facial expressions. Engage all of these non-verbals when speaking and you’ll present with confidence, passion and be in the right state of mind, whether it’s a business or personal conversation.
  1. Don’t forget your necktop computer. It’s better than any phone, tablet or watch.

I’ve tried these techniques myself and they really work. Don’t be afraid to try them yourself. Before your next business appointment, a job interview or a footy match, make sure your necktop computer is plugged in, turned on and you’ll be playing from a 10!

What techniques have you found useful to be confident in your business and personal dealings? What puts you in a productive, resourceful mindset?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work