Be Prepared

be-prepared

Be Prepared

One of the simplest and most effective mottos originates from scouting organizations.  Be prepared.  Be ready for anything.  Every year, Coast Guard searches are conducted, looking for people who were ill prepared.  Sometimes they did not adequately prepare with emergency supplies, or safety gear.  Perhaps they neglected to look at the weather reports for the day, and were caught unaware of an approaching storms.

Preparation is vital, not just for life, but also for profession.  Those who apply and interview for jobs that are prepared, will greatly increase their chances for success.  Those who “wing it” or hope to perform and adapt on the fly will have more frustration.  Increase your chances with the following:

  1. Know Yourself

For thousands of years, philosophers and thinkers struggled with the idea of knowing who and what they are.  Know what makes you who you are and how you think.  This can be rather abstract, but in the realm of the job market, know who you are and where your strengths lie.  What are you good at?  What makes you do the things you do.  What do you seek or what do you want to do?  Where does your passion lie?

Fully understanding where you stand in terms of the job market can make interviewing much easier.  When you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can learn to focus and match your strengths with the job descriptions.  Equally important is to know what you need work on.  Targeting weaknesses and areas that need improvement can make you a well-rounded employee down the road.  The first step towards greatness is to know who you are and what you need to do.

When a hiring manager asks you questions, you can always frame the arguments towards your strengths.  You will be able to answer questions with more authority and conviction.  You will not have to spend moments trying to reflect back when asked.  You will be assertive and on point.

  1. Treat Each Application as Unique

It’s easy to target quantity over quality.  The trap is easy to fall for.  Why send out just ten resumes for job openings, when you can send out one hundred.  I’ve heard the argument before.  A small percentage of one hundred will yield more results that a small percentage of ten.

While the math backs up this logic, in terms of job searching, this will generally not work out.  Take each job posting as separate and unique.  Read through the description and look at what skills the organization is seeking.  Match your own skills with the various elements of the job description, tailor the resume to reflect what the job posting specifies.  You want to lead off the resume with the most relevant skills for the posted jobs.  A posting may require marketing skills, so be sure you lead off your marketing abilities, not accounting.

Create a standard resume base, and take the time to modify it as needed for every job you apply for.  Treat the job search as a full time job.  Be organized, and have a breakdown of resumes for every position.  You learn more about yourself in the process and will separate from many applications.

  1. Research

Many interviews will ask what should be an easy question.  “Tell me what you know of our organization and why do you want to work here?”  Learn the pros and cons for every company you apply for.  Are they on Forbes’ list of good companies to work for?  Did they make the Fast Company Magazine of the one hundred most innovative companies?  Are they the subject for impending high profile lawsuits?  Have they declared bankruptcy in recent memory?  Understanding the footing of the company or organization today can lead to a better understanding of what to expect.

Congratulations, you have an interview and are scheduled to go in a week from today.  What’s your game-plan?  Are you planning to drive by the location where you need to report to?  What’s the traffic like?  Construction nearby?  Eliminate potential stress from an already stressful time by knowing exactly where to go and what the parking will be like.  The time before the interview will be better spent on relaxing and reflecting on possible questions, not where to park or go.

Do you have the list of names of who will be conducting the interview?  Check them out on LinkedIn, or even Facebook.  Someone who has a bunch of Star Wars references on their Facebook page may appreciate a reference to the movies.  Discretely, of course.  The last thing you want to do is appear to be stalking them, but having some level of who they are, maybe a little about their personalities can help you leave a quality impression.

Be prepared.  Take all the little steps that can work together to separate you from the others.  Every bit you do will help, and it will take time and effort, but when you go into job search and interview prepared, it shows.  You will tell the prospective company you are serious and determined.  Others may have more skills, but dedication, work ethic, and preparation are equally important traits to have and demonstrate while at an interview.

Honesty is the Best Policy

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My mom always told me to tell the truth. The truth may not always be what you want to say or hear. As a manager, do I want to hear that a project is failing, or that there are some significant problems that will put our department in a negative light? No, but I would rather hear that than something inaccurate. Bad news isn’t always the worst thing in the world, and knowledge is power. Knowing the true state of something will allow me to prepare and respond accordingly. Someone who is honest is someone I respect, even if the news may be bad.

As someone new to the job market, it may be easy to be inaccurate on your resume or application. As job searches go on for longer periods of time, it may be tempting to claim that your role in a project or previous job was more significant than it really was. To make false statements or to claim roles and experience that you did not earn can backfire. When it does, you will violate their trust and put your reputation on the line.

Volkswagen-scandalA couple of recent examples immediately come to mind. On a corporate level, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen have made news. Whether or not the companies mandated false claims for mileage for some of their fuel efficient vehicles, or whether individuals took it upon themselves to falsify the reports, the fact is the companies are seen to have violated the trust in the consumers, which will resonate with consumers for decades.

Years from now, how it happened may not matter. All that will come to mind is that these companies lied to the consumers. Their trust is no longer what it once was. Companies can spend years trying to resurrect tarnished images. Ford is still remembered for the decision to not correct the problems with the Pinto. Union Carbide’s role in the Bhopal disaster, or more recently BP’s role in the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have tarnished their image. Decades may be required before some of the trust can be earned again.

The same principle holds true on a personal level. Lance Armstrong will never live past the performance enhancers he used while winning seven consecutive races in the Tour de France. Pete Rose, the leading hitter in baseball history, is still banned from the game due to his gambling on games. President Nixon never was never able to get past the Watergate scandal. These are famous individuals, but the same thing can haunt everyone.

To get a foot in the door under false pretenses can lead to a job, but the hardship of getting in over your head can be severe. The organization spends time and money hiring someone, only to have to let them go, and repeat the process months later. Projects can fail, and money can be lost. Worst of all, people can be laid off. Decisions all have consequences that may reach far beyond an individual’s reach. The company thinks they are getting someone to perform a valuable role, only to lose time and resources.

In a more networked age, reputations will more easily follow an individual. Burn a bridge, or get caught lying or falsifying your experience, you can make things more difficult for you down the road. Be honest and accurate, and if finding that first job, or something better than you have now, takes a bit longer, you’ll be better off because of it. Earn that job and feel good about it, you’ll be better off the long run.

Resume Tips

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So many organizations, websites, and books tend to all say very similar things about resume writing, almost to the point of being a cliché. But they are so true, and many job seekers do not seem to heed them. Do you want to have a leg up from the very beginning? Here are some common recommendations from my own experiences as a hiring manager.

  1. Tailor the Resume to the Specific Job

Some people seem to think that the best job search method is saturation. Multiple job board sites have been around for years now, and offer many features for mass applying for open jobs. Several companies specialize in taking a resume and broadcasting it out to a mass audience. I understand the logic of having one resume that gets sent out to hundreds of companies and job postings. This is not a good method to implement. Believe me, I’ve tried it. Hiring managers can see a standard one size fits all resume and generally do not give them much consideration.

Take your time, and carefully read the job descriptions and reflect on them. Do you have the necessary skills required? Do you have the experience if mandated? Decide if the job is something you are qualified for and can reasonably expect to perform it if hired. Tailor the resume and application to reflect the required skills and experience. You may be a great computer programmer, but if this is not a programming job, do not lead with that particular skill. Lead with the experience that is pertinent to the job posting first, before other skills. The hiring manager sifting through many applications that contain irrelevant experience and skills will notice yours as a good fit for the available job, and probably give it further consideration.

  1. Make the Resume or Application User Friendly

Long paragraphs are better left to essays and research papers. Bullet points are your friend. A long paragraph will make the hiring manager work harder to read your resume. Make it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to see your skills and experience related to the job posting. I take great pride in giving each an equal evaluation, and if one resume is harder to read than others, I still take my time to evaluate it equally. Not all hiring managers will do this.

Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. You have work to do as part of your regular duties, but still have to take the time to go through the pool of applicants. They may have to evaluate many in a short amount of time. Sometimes it may be over one hundred, perhaps more. After reading through fifty or sixty, do you think they want to see long paragraphs of text with your skills and experience buried within? Think of who will be evaluating as you write and format your resume. Break down the necessary skills in bullet point format. Always make it easy to read and concise.

Avoid industry jargon. Assume that the hiring manger may not be fully up to speed on many of these concepts and spell it out. Some jargon can be expected, but always make things clear and readable. Assume that people not familiar to the jargon and acronyms will be reading the resume and application.

  1. Proof!

When I see someone who effectively proof reads something, I see someone who takes the time to pay attention to details and they show a tendency to see things through. Many resumes and applications I receive have grammar mistakes and misspellings. Do you want a hiring manager to notice your flaws in this critical moment, or do you want them to see your skills and experience?

Mistakes will happen, and I have made my share of them. However, with as much on the line as a new job, and possible start to a career, this is not the time or place to make preventable mistakes. Do not gloss over the resume and application.

You may have spent hours perfecting it, and tailoring it to various postings, and not yield results. For young and inexperienced candidates, a perfect resume may not be enough. Be persistent and be thorough in your efforts. These, too, are life skills worth perfecting. Every little thing you can do to make your resume better, to be more visible and outstanding compared to the others will increase your odds for an interview. Keep pressing, there’s a career within your grasp.

Profiles in Teamwork: Lou Gehrig

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Team dynamics are critical for any organization. The tired clichés and adages pertaining to teamwork stick around because they are so true. Successful organizations and departments always have people working together for the common mission, and a well working team can achieve much success. Sure, there are outliers and in some cases, a collective working as separate entities can still achieve success, but odds are not in their favor.

I love looking at leading industry figures and historical examples of good leaders and teamwork. Learn what made a particular team or organization successful, and if applicable, emulate the ideas and practices when able. Learning from history can be immensely valuable, as many of these lessons are timeless. A great leader at the turn of the 20th century would be a great leader at that start of the 21st century. Technology is radically different, but the concepts of teamwork and leadership are always relevant, regardless of the era or time.

One of my favorite historical figures is Lou Gehrig. Gehrig played first base for the New York Yankees during the 1920s through the 1930s, and was a key figure on the famous 1927 “Murderers Row” Yankees, still regarded as one of the best teams in baseball history. Gehrig was quiet and measured, and always the consummate professional. Playing behind the boisterous and larger-than-life Babe Ruth, Gehrig always was relegated to the background. Ruth made the headlines with his antics on and off the field, while Gehrig quietly worked to make the team better.

Gehrig played key parts of the seven World Series championships he won as a member of the Yankees. Without his constant and consistent presence in the lineup, I would argue they would have won much less. Known for his continuous games played record of 2,130 games played, which stood for 56 years, Gehrig was the essence of the team. His stats, even when compared to more offensive eras of baseball, are impressive these many years later. His stats have been eclipsed, and others came afterward to hit for a better batting average, more home runs, or more runs batted in, but his legacy has endured more than a century after his birth.

For those who want to be part of a team, or to be part of something bigger, look no further than Lou Gehrig. His enduring legacy shines to this day. For those who think than being part of the team may hold you back, or to see your efforts glossed over, fear not. As a hiring manager, a critical trait is to fit in well with the team. If you work hard, and put the team first, your efforts will be recognized. You can still shine as a valued employee, yet still be a team player. Those who think they need to be better than everyone else, or work to elevate their stature at the expense of others will only hurt their own career and reputation. Lou Gehrig was voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1939, and was voted onto the “All Century” team in 1999. Not bad for a man who was all about putting the team first.

Records (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lou_Gehrig)

MLB Records
Accomplishment Record
Most consecutive seasons with 120+ RBIs 8 (1927–1934)
Most runs batted in (RBI) by a first baseman 1,995
Most runs scored by a first baseman 1,888
Highest on-base percentage by a first baseman .447
Most walks by a first baseman 1,508
Highest slugging percentage by a first baseman .632
Most extra base hits by a first baseman 1,190
Single–season
Most runs batted-in by a first baseman 184 (1931)
Most runs scored by a first baseman 167 (1936)
Highest slugging percentage by a first baseman .765 (1927)
Extra-base hits by a first baseman 117 (1927)
Most total bases by a first baseman 447 (1927)
 
Most home runs[a] 4
  1. The record is held with 15 other players

Awards and honors

Award/Honor # of Times Dates
American League All-Star 7 1933–1939
American League MVP 2 1927, 1936
The Lou Gehrig Memorial Award[80] 1955–present
Named starting first baseman on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team 1999
Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum 1939
World Series champion 6 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938

Teamwork: An Essential Skill

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Books and movies seem to glamorize the lone hero. As a society, we tend to celebrate the accomplishments of a solitary figure. Will LeBron James win for the city of Cleveland, which last saw a championship with the 1964 Cleveland Browns football team? The mindset seems to be not the team winning, but the individual winning it for the team. So much focus of the last Super Bowl match-up was Cam Newton going against Peyton Manning. The young, brash quarterback versus the rapidly declining elder statesman of the league.

In sports, as in life, so much focus seems to be on the accomplishments of the individual. In business, much can be made of the accomplishments of the CEO at a given company. Bill Gates was Microsoft. Steve Jobs was Apple. Currently, Jeff Bezos is Amazon, or Elon Musk is Tesla. Articles in many technology or business magazines tend to gloss over the teams that prop these people up. Would any of these CEOs have succeeded to heights of business without a great team to fulfill their vision?

Before anyone can climb the ladder of any company or organization, they need to build up a foundation in teamwork. To be part of the team is crucial and essential. Anyone who comes in fresh out of college, training school, or armed with certifications, and tries to be the star will be frustrated. I’ve seen young workers come in and work hard and do a decent job, but they were not working for the benefit of the team. They tended to pull more work than others in order to skew the work order stats, and at times they neglected to share information that was helpful for others. The actions did not reflect well, and possible avenues for advancement were not realized by these individuals.

Any team, whether it’s in an IT sector like me, or something on a manufacturing line, will know when people are working for their own interests. Managers who are paying attention will see information hoarding and selfishness. The more you prop yourself up at the expense of others, the weaker your foundation will be. Few managers will tolerate disruptive and selfish individuals who undermine the team dynamic. Most managers, me included, would rather have someone on staff that is average in skills, but top rated in teamwork, before a star worker, who disrupts the team.

As you start out in your career, or seek to land that first great job, work as part of the team. Do your part and let your actions speak, not your voice. Don’t talk about whether you did this or did that, but show what you have done. Demonstrate it through your work ethic. Be the one that others grow to depend and rely on. Be on time and attend consistently. Be the one to take on the hard and unwanted duties without question or complaint. When things are critical, step up and keep the engines going. It may seem that others may have better visibility or opportunities, but this is not the case. You are building and reinforcing your foundation and putting the team first. There may be times you will be overlooked, as some managers can and will play favorites, but keep the team in mind for your actions. In the end, you will reap the benefits.

The coworkers that may admire and respect you now, may be the ones you are in charge of down the road. This is the team that will work extra hard not just for the organization, but they will put forth the extra bit of effort for someone they admire and respect. Someone may use the team to vault into a higher position, but I’ve seen so many times where the team does not fully respect them, and the effort and determination reflects that.

Team first will set you up for all your successes. When you get your foot in the door, start working as part of the team, and build your foundation for the future.

How to Answer the Five Year Question

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Where do You See Yourself in Five Years?

This is perhaps one of the most common questions any potential candidate will face. This one could be asked as “What do you want to do?”, or perhaps “What is your long range objectives?” There are many variants for this question, but it will probably be asked in some capacity during an interview, especially for entry level positions. The question is easy to answer properly, but can be tricky and destructive for possible employment opportunities.

Good Answers

What I look for when asking this question is simply to gage someone’s interest in self-improvement. Will they get the position, and stagnate in terms of professional growth? Are they realistic in what their expectations are? Will they be self-motivated? These questions are usually bouncing around in my mind when conducting an interview.

Some good answers I like to see are:

  • To continue to progress in the profession through continued experience, education, or certifications.
  • To achieve more rank and responsibility by excellent performance and high achievements.
  • To help fulfill the mission of the organization through dedication and hard work (know the organization’s mission before the interview)

Any combination or variation of the above answers will be viewed in a positive manner. I recommend keeping the enthusiasm realistic, as I have heard some possible candidates answer that they want to run the department. Usually, the interviewers will be looking in the short term, hence the five year period of time. Be realistic and positive.

A Word of Caution

This question is difficult to answer much better than other candidates, as this one is perhaps the most expected question to prepare for in any given interview. However, this question is easy to answer in a way that is unfavorable, and can undermine your chances for the open position, or future consideration for the organization.

Answers to Avoid:

  • I haven’t given this much thought as of yet/I have no immediate plans.
  • Whatever you want me to do, I only want to follow orders.
  • To be in charge/to be running the place.
  • To make the highest wages possible.

These answers will tell the interviewer that you either have no plans for the future, have little drive or motivation, or simply want to use the job as a rung in the ladder for advancement. If the position is not desirable for your career plans, you’ll have to answer the question as if you will be in the field for the long haul.

If you have everything planned out, wonderful. Elaborate and lay it out for the hiring manger during the interview. If you really don’t know, or are indeed using the position to get your foot in the door to gain experience before moving on, be vague. Always focus on self-improvement. You may have no solid answer for this question, but as long as the hiring manger knows you want to continue your education and experience, they will look upon your answer in a favorable manner.

Be prepared for this obvious and common question. Frame the answer in such a way that you are focused on internal growth, and dedication to the organization as a whole. You may not know for sure what five years will entail, but as long as you express a desire to improve your skills, gain experience, and express a desire to help the organization’s mission, the hiring manager will nod in approval and move onto the next question. You will be one step closer for consideration.

Be Prepared

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Sports can provide valuable lessons for all aspects of life. Over the news and heard on many of the talk shows on sports radio, recent topics showcase many of the negatives of sports in general. Many respected athletes have been shown to have engaged in the use of unauthorized performance enhancers, or encounter legal troubles ranging from domestic violence to outright murder. Watch the news, and you’ll so many instances of stars of various sports behaving badly. In spite of the lessons on how not to behave, I like to look at a sports analogy for those trying to get that first job. Preparation is vital.

Watch a college or professional basketball or football game, and you see those who have worked so very hard to get to that point. The introductions ensure, and the starting lineup come out to mid court and the game begins. The crowd cheers and for next couple of hours. Heroes can be created based on a great performance. The game, itself, is just a small part of the process.

These athletes are do not simply come together and play the game. The audience and viewers on TV do not see the amounts of preparation that went into the development of their individual skills going back to the first time they took up the sport. We do not see the intensity of practices, nor do we see the many hours of shooting and conditioning these athletes put in. Thousands of hours for many of these players were spent just to get them to this point in time.

The amount of preparation put in to job hunting and for interviewing can lead to success, just as these athletes. If you do not put in the effort to search for a job, you will miss opportunities. Researching trends in whatever industry you are considering will pay benefits down the road. When you know where the industry is heading, you can pattern your resume, application, and cover letter to match it. Develop skills before to meet these demands will be very marketable. This will take time and effort, but every slight advantage you can gain will increase the changes to get a career start.

Before you get an interview, time should be spent on reading as much as you can in regards to the common interview questions. Simply walking into a resume without adequate preparation is a mistake, and it will show during your performance. Stammering or not being able to put thoughts together coherently will definitely show up. There are so many books and articles that document common questions, and how to answer them properly. Failure to do this is a critical mistake. Anticipating these questions and having examples at the ready will allow for a better interview. The amount of preparation will be evident and will showcase your qualities beyond anything you can. Actions speak louder than words, as the old cliché goes.

Be professional and prepare as such. This is your career, and you’ll need to take ownership of it. Spend the time in the gym, so to speak, and practice. Have answers ready for as many questions as you can anticipate. If you put in the work, your career will be off to a great start.