Thursday, December 2, 2010

Q+A: How to approach an interview

Cynopsis: Classified Advantage

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: I enjoy your contributions to Cynopsis and I have a question for you or your experts on the interview itself, three times I've had what I thought were great interviews with the potential employer saying to me "You're perfect, sounds great and we'll contact you" and then I hear crickets. The only feedback I've gotten is that they know I have the job skills, experience, etc but they didn't get to "know me." I am not certain what I'm doing wrong since I doubt they really want to hear about how I have two kids, two mortgages, blah blah blah and I also am not certain why they don't just thank me for coming in instead of going out of their way to say I'm "perfect" and "love your energy" and then nothing. Perhaps some advice on the best way to wrap up an interview or to leave a good impression?

A: You are right; they don't want to hear about your mortgages.  My suspicion is that you are presenting the right information about yourself but not in a sufficiently personal and engaging manner. They want to know how you'll fit in, how you'll go about what you have to do.

Try telling little stories about the projects you have done and use them to illustrate your obsessiveness, or passion or how well you led a particular team or how you overcame some specific set of obstacles.  Think about these stories as something that only you could tell.  They should demonstrate something about how you approach your work and your co-workers. These are the things that help them to get to know you.  Having the qualifications and experience is only half the battle:  do you have a sense of humor, are you curious, do you pay attention to detail and so on?  These are qualities that fall into the "knowing you" category. 

As you leave, you could say "I really enjoyed this interview, and I learned a lot from it ... in fact I am going to follow up on such and such a thing and will get back to you with what I discover."  This is not a script, but an attitude that says so much about you.  But of course  make it your own, otherwise it won't work.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Defining Career Goals and Making Choices

Having a goal is critical to your career.  Not just the short termism of getting through today’s to-do list or the default goal of not getting fired.  But the longer term vision of where you would like to find yourself in five years or so. Would you like to be working for yourself?  Would you like to be traveling the world?  Would you like to own the company you work for?  Would you like to have your boss’s job?
If you have a long list of dreams and are confused, I recommend using the prioritizer: to help you see which ones rise to the top.
Once you have settled on something, then every day think about what you can do in the next 24 hours to advance towards your chosen goal. If travel is your dream, be investigating which overseas offices or clients.  If promotion is your goal then figure out who is in charge of that decision and what you think they might be looking for in their next upgrade.  If a career change is on your mind, then do the research, learn about the new business, build your network, polish your chops, get the qualification to get you moving in the right direction.
Clarity about your goal will make many things easier for you.  When you are faced with more than one option, you have a basis for deciding: by considering which one moves you further in the direction you want to go.  Having a goal will help you from the moment you get up in the morning to decide what is important and which choice to make.
If you have a job that isn’t challenging you, challenge yourself.  Even if your client or boss is not demanding, you can surely come up with some spin on your work that will make it more relevant to where your interests lie and move you closer to your goal.  Pick challenges that will make you smarter, more marketable, more relevantly experienced.  All with an eye on where you want to get to.
So here is the actionable part of this column where I ask you to write down your goal.  Your  “What-do-I-want-to-be-doing-in-five-years” goal.  Yes, write it down.  Interesting how it changes and focuses itself when you aren’t just holding it somewhere in the back of your mind, where it never quite formed into anything beyond “I want to be happy and in charge of my destiny”. And don’t panic, it can change  – don’t feel you are going to be trapped by it.
If you are always working towards your goal, then you will find satisfaction and maintain your drive. If you are just trying to stay afloat each day, then that is the best you can hope for.  Get yourself a goal and work yourself towards it.  It is fun, productive and so very much more satisfying than drifting.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The importance of listening

First Published in Cynopsis Classified Advantage

One of the most important skills you should use in your job search is listening carefully, both literally and metaphorically. You have to listen to your friends when they tell you about opportunities. You have to listen to your bosses and clients to learn about your strengths and weaknesses. You have to listen to your heart to know what you really want to pursue.

You especially have to listen to the wording of the job ad. What does it actually say they are looking for? You have to listen closely to the recruiter and to your interviewer.

You will already have invested large chunks of time developing your own unique positioning to separate you from the pack. You have probably crafted yourself a script for your elevator meetings, a template for your cover letter, a set of anecdotes for your interview. And all this as it should be. If you have thought it all through and internalized it and what it means, it will do its magic for you. But if you are determined to stick to your script willy-nilly this investment might all be for nought.

Listen carefully to what is said and also between the lines to what is unsaid. And that means listening not only in the moment of the interview, but it means listening to the research you will have done in advance. Listen to what the company says on the website. Listen to the story the recruiter tells you about the job. Listen to the LinkedIn profile of your interviewer. Take it all in and frame your responses and approaches accordingly.

If you are safely in a job but aspire to a promotion or a new assignment, listen to your boss, to your co-workers, to the press so that you can create the opportunity and be there as the obvious person to fill it. This comes not just from wanting it  and telling your boss "I want the bigger title," but from asking the right questions of the right people and listening to what is needed, so you can tell them you will provide just that.

People like to be listened to. They like to be heard. They do not like to be ignored. So tell them you heard them by responding directly and positively to something they said. Don' t stick to a script  be ready to improvise. If they feel you have not listened to them, or worse yet responded with a " No, " they will shut down and they will not listen to you. Listening keeps you relevant and smart. Their awareness of your listening to them keeps them engaged with you. I can' t stress this enough.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Successful job hunt

I received this today from a recent Coaching client and thought I would share it.

Dear Michael,

I did it -- got a job!!!!  I can hardly believe it.  Never would have happened without your coaching, seriously.

In a tough market this experienced professional had almost given up hope of working again, so this news is especially welcome. 

Q+A: LinkedIn profiles and personality

As published in Cynopsis Classified Advantage
Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: Recently, I lost my job due to my company's financial state. Downsizing was a must, and I, unfortunately, got the cut. The thing is, it was almost a blessing in disguise. After leaving, I was happier, not something you'd expect after losing one's job. After re- evaluating my industry and the role I played, in the pursuit of happiness, I have decided to career change. It's not been easy, as the unstructured freedom during the work-week has lost a little bit of it's glitter, but I still think I'm heading in the right direction. I have chosen a new career path, but my question is this: how can I make my Linkedin profile reflect my career change? I of course want to put down all of my prior work experience, however, I also want to prove that I can do another job and that my skills translate. If I post my past experience, won't a potential employer think, why would I hire this person from X industry, when we're looking for someone who has experience in Y industry? Does that make sense? Please let me know what you would recommend.

A: I suggest you think very carefully about the skills and experience that will be desirable in your new career. Consider the needs of your potential new employer and find the angle on your past that could be relevant and persuasive. Make the fact of the change and your prior experience an added value. Use the summary section to express this  emphasizing the relevant and unique strengths that come from your rich background in other fields that makes you a stronger candidate than the pack of straight-liners you'll be competing with. Reframe the skills section as well as the details on all your prior positions to support your new positioning. Certain things that were awesome in your old field may have to be dropped because they are no longer relevant, or worse, contradict your new story. With a strong but unusual background, you are most likely to appeal to a smart employer who thinks outside the envelope, and that is likely to be someone you would want to work for.

Q: I find that LinkedIn is so business oriented, that it doesn't have much opportunity for one's personality to come through. Is this a good thing? Or is there something I can do with my account to make it seem less like a cover letter and resume, and reflect other aspects of my life?

A: LinkedIn is primarily a source for business connections. If you really want to express your entire personality in a social media setting, Facebook may be a better vehicle for you.

That said, on LinkedIn, the writing style you use for your summary section is an important way to let your personality shine through. Casual, jargony, straightforward, insightful  all these attributes will tell your reader something important. Different employers and industries have different codes and standards. The formal, passive writing style that appeals to academe is anathema to media people.

Another way to express your personality is through the updates you can post near the top of your profile, though do bear your target audience in mind when you update and remember what qualities they are looking for. By all means if it supports your business case you can mention your hobbies or other interests. If you are an ex-Marine, or a nonprofit board member for example these could certainly be important to include.

But do be sure not to make it look as if your eye will always be on the clock and your mind not on the job.

Don't forget LinkedIn for your job search

This article first appeared in Cynopsis Classified Advantage

By Michael Pollock

I am sure you are well established on LinkedIn, but are you using it effectively in your job search? It is just too easy for us to let it sit there passively in the background, but there are some simple and effective ways to extract value.

Start by connecting to as many people as you can think of. Duh! But I am sure there are some you have missed. Don' t just think of people who might hire you...connect to people you once worked with. Connect to people who worked for you. Connect to people who might know someone who could help you in the future. Look closely at who is connected to your connections; I know you will have several, " Oh, yes. I had forgotten about her!" moments.

I was working today with a filmmaker who has been specializing in medical topics. He is going to see his dentist in a couple of weeks. This dentist goes to medical conferences and knows lots of people who might need film. What if he was on LinkedIn? What if some of his professional connections wanted film made for their professional associations? What if they worked for pharmaceutical companies? Sounds like a valuable connection for this filmmaker. Who are the equivalents in your field?

Another excellent use: as you look at job ads on Cynopsis Classified Advantage or other boards, note the companies who seem to have good opportunities for you. Then search those companies on LinkedIn  there is a drop down menu on the search field that lets you search for people or for companies. See if anyone from those firms knows anyone that you know. Then email your friend and ask to be introduced. I recommend not using the automated LinkedIn introduction tool  make the request something more personal. So now you can network your way into the hiring company and do your research and make the connections you need to get you in there.

Does your LinkedIn headline clearly indicate your value to a hirer? As with all communications  each piece needs to make the reader want more. Does your summary give a clear expression of what you offer and engagingly differentiate you from all the others? Does your chronology include experience and specifics that support and flesh out your summary? Does your specialty list include all the keywords that recruiters might use in a job search?

As with so many of these online systems there are depths that I never plumb, and I' m not taking you there. But start with the easy-to-use pieces; get them working together guided by your constant attention and research and insight. It really is an adventure, a voyage of exploration. Keep poking around and you will find valuable connections you never knew you had and see more and more ways to get your carefully constructed message into the right hands.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Read This!

I was asked by another media business newsletter to put together a reading list for the end of summer.  I share it with you here - as the summer draws on and all those things we have put off until after Labor Day are starting to loom! 

Summer reading is a wonderful thing. I have read in tents high up in Yosemite, on a cruise from Venice, on the beach at Bridgehampton, and on a bench in Central Park. Out of your routine, your mind is attuned to pay extra attention and reap fresh insights. Here are some ideas for the last precious days of this summer.

1. How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer. Perhaps this is the first book you should pick up as it delves fascinatingly into the processes our minds go through when we are - for example – deciding which book to pick up next. It tells you that in an MIT test, a group of stock investors with less information have ended up earning more than twice as much as a well-informed group.

2. A must-read for all creative thinkers is James Webb Youngʼs classic: A Technique For Producing Ideas. First published in 1965 this small but important work has helped countless ad guys and painters, poets and engineers to break the deadly jam of the blank page and let their creativity do what itʼs supposed to do. To me this is not an optional book.

3. Innovate Like Edison by Michael Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott. This account of Thomas Edisonʼs life and methods tells us that apparently he invented everything: integrated marketing, smart hiring practices, networking, oh yes the light bulb, methods for innovation, even for thinking. This book will leave you bursting with ideas and annoying your family with his famous quotes.

4. John Steinbeck's delightful book Sea of Cortez. This is a great travel and science book all in one. Wonderfully written, it is exceptionally joyful reading. He tells of an expedition made around the coast of Baja California. It's witty, humane and most charming. Itʼs about survival and biology and exploration and discovery and politics and "civilization". And drinking. One of its most vivid characters is the Sea-Cow: his willful outboard motor!

5. For lovers of history and politics, David Kynastonʼs account of the rise of the welfare state in Austerity Britain gives us much to think about as we review our own political system. This is a story full of anecdotes about activist government - and how the British felt about it.

6. The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, by Sonia Shah, is a page turner. We learn how the Plasmodium parasite carried by mosquitoes, constantly adapting to outflank our attacks, has controlled so much of our history. This might be a fight we canʼt win. The book is spellbinding investigative reporting.

7. This is a controversial pick, but we are grown-ups here and can understand and interpret. The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell is a novel about a man who worked for an organization. He had to deal with tedious bureaucracy and arrogant bosses. (Sound familiar?) He was measured by his success at the task with no thought as to whether the task was right. His job? He worked for the SS and his assignment was to ensure that killing was done as efficiently as possible. The book is violent and nasty. It was hugely successful in France, Germany and England, winning two major French literary awards. It is not for the squeamish. But this book will surely jolt us into reflection on the value of our own work.

8. The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis brings him back to his early “bad boy” style. His 21 year old hero is inching toward a stunning 20-year-old blonde called Sheherazade, with whom heʼs sharing a summer in an Italian castle, along with several friends including his semi-platonic and semi-liberated girlfriend, Lily. Itʼs the summer of 1970, with all that that entails!

9. Stefan Sagmeisterʼs Things I Learned In My Life So Far is really 15 small booklets. Shuffle them and youʼll drastically change the look of your book. Itʼs a series of design projects spelling out personal truths that he identified in his diary: “Worrying solves nothing," "Trying to look good limits my life," “Complaining is silly: either act or forget” and so on. It is visually stimulating, provocative and fun.

8. I just finished the third of Stieg Larssonʼs Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked Over The Hornets Nest. I couldnʼt put it down. There is plotting and hackers and politics and murder and bikers and shady dealings on all fronts. See the Swedish film versions and tell me what you think. A friend, seeing that David Fincher is slated to direct a US version, wondered why another one was needed. For myself, I canʼt wait to see what he does with it.

Michael Pollock is President of Pollock Spark ( He is an Executive Coach and Consultant to Creative and Media professionals. He works with people in film, TV, journalism, advertising, design, marketing, music and the Internet, bringing them the experience, techniques and inspiration to take their businesses and careers to new levels of success.

© 2010 Pollock Spark

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Changing technology, storytelling and evolving skills.

I was in a conversation today about the importance of evolving our skillsets as media technology changes, and was reminded of this story from early Hollywood.  What follows is excerpted from a book which has been lost to me; it was given to me by a wonderful production assistant many years ago.

Ernst Lubitsch - Film Director
Lubitsch had a habit of crooking his forefinger over that enormous nose of his, and he said, “Junge, I want you never to forget this - what I am about to tell you. When the decision was made to change from silent films to talking films, the producers called together the greatest stars they had - this was in each studio. And the producers said, ‘You ladies and gentlemen who are the stars of the great silent screen, you must now learn to talk. You can no longer make faces and look camera left, camera right, up, down, what the director tells you to do, and then hope that he can put it together into a performance. You’ve got to learn to talk dialogue and play it. Those of you who can - you'll be greater than ever. Those of you who can't - overnight, no matter how great you are, you’ll be finished .’
“Then,” said Lubitsch, “they called together all the great directors. And they said, ‘All you directors of the silent screen, no more running out in the morning with that box, a camera and an assistant, you shoot something here and you shoot something there, and then you bring it back . . . No, no. You gentlemen have got to learn to read scripts, to digest characterization, pace and how to tell a story that is written - and those of you who don’t - overnight, you’ll be forgotten .’
“And then,” said Lubitsch, “they called together all the great title writers, those who’d been the biggest of the silent screen, and they said, ‘You writers, no longer is it going to be something that you can bring in on the back of an envelope, - you have to become dramatists - you have to learn how to write dialogue, conflict, and so forth. And those of you who can’t - you’re finished .’
“And,” said Lubitsch, “that really happened, as you know. You could name the great stars of the silent screen who were finished - the great directors, gone - the great title writers who were washed up - but, boy, remember this as long as you live: The producers didn’t lose a man. They all made the switch! That’s where the great talent is. Remember this.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Basic Presentation Tips

It never hurts to restate the things that we all know but don't always remember to do.  I recently turned up these old notes from an Edward Tufte presentation. 

Tufte's Presentation Tips
1. Show up early.
2. Early on in the presentation, tell your audience what to expect from you.
3. Give everyone in the room a piece of paper, such as detailed evidence of a point you are going to make.
4. AVOID OVERHEADS.  (Today = Powerpoint?)  Use them only if you are showing very complex information.
5. Never apologize.
6. Practice and rehearse.  (do both I guess!)
7. If you use humor, it should be directly relevant to the target at hand.
8. Don't use the singular male as universal; use the plural "they/them" instead.
9. Finish early.
10. Be very careful when answering questions. You're often judged solely on Q & A.   If a question requires a long answer, you may be better off answering it privately, after the presentation.
11. Don't be afraid to show pride in what you've done (often accomplished thought your gestures)
12. Drink a lot of water. (Public speaking and flying are the 2 most dehydrating things you can do.)

 Here is more Tufte

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A way to help your client and grow your business

Do you have clients who don't know what else you can do for them?  You know all the things that your company can do, but unless you tell your clients, how are they going to know? 

I was talking to the client of a design firm I was working with, and discovered she was taking a huge chunk of her creative project - which my client could have been doing - to another company.  "I didn't know they could do that too," she said.  "Why didn't they tell me? It would have saved me a lot of trouble." 

And she's right.  You can't just assume that everyone knows what's going on in that room down the hall.  Since your client already trusts you creatively, she will very likely consider a new service or talent that you are offering.  So it is up to you to make sure she knows about them.  Introduce her to your other teams.  Cross-sell her your other services.  Show her the work and tell her how it can help her. 

How to Develop a Happier, More Productive Creative Team

There are people in your company who don’t know what your company does.  Sometimes people who sit right next to each other have no idea what their colleagues do, and they don’t have any way of understanding what it all adds up to.  Are the designers talking to the tech people?  Do the creative directors talk to each other?  Does the receptionist know what the company does? Do they know where their part fits into the overall vision?  Do they know what the overall vision is?  If each understands what the other can do, they can use it and learn from it.  If people know where their part fits in and what the company as a whole is trying to do, they can help to support and grow it, and the organization will get stronger.

There are people on your team who aren’t on your team.  You might have a hard time believing this (or not), but I have actually met someone in a company whose personal agenda is working against the greater good.  (“Say it’s not so,” I hear you cry!)  The creative business encourages individualism and outside-the-box thinking, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have some common goals and work together.  There are creatives who go to their workstation, put on their headphones and don’t resurface all day.  You know who I mean.  Get in there and talk to them.  Find out what they want.  Find out how you can help them, and how they can help others in the organization: and in so doing make a better product and build their career and the business together.

These things could never happen in your company …right?  But I’ve seen it happen all around. Take a look and see.  Maybe there are some simple ways to engage and involve your team so you can build a stronger, happier, more cohesive and more productive creative operation.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Put Serendipity to Work for You

Knowledge of all sorts - including where the perfect job or client is waiting for you - is spread far and wide. Itʼs easy and cheap to connect and interact with people who we never thought in the past would be reachable. The Internet makes it possible for us to tap into so many fast-moving resources and information streams.

This is bad news and good news. First the bad: since what we need to know is so widely spread about, it has become harder than ever to get what we want with a traditional search. But the good news for us is that it is more likely than in the past that we will find something valuable through a chance encounter.

I have been inspired by The Economistʼs review of a book called The Power of Pull: How Small Moves Smartly Made Can Set Big Things in Motion. It speaks to something I believe is most important in a job search, indeed in all of our business development: and that is being open to serendipity - even actually encouraging it. The authors propose a straightforward three-pronged strategy. First: approach the right people. Second: get the right people to approach you. And third: use these relationships to do things better and faster.

They have three tips. One is to live near brainy changophiles. For example, people of interest cluster together in Silicon Valley, NYC, London, Shanghai, Bangalore and so on.

So if you are in such a locale, every social interaction is potentially profitable. Even chatting to your dentist, or to another parent at the little league game could lead to something interesting.

Second go on the conference trail. There are many new conferences popping up as our businesses are changing so very rapidly. They remind me, as I have so often found, that corridor conversations are far more often useful than the formal sessions.

Their third tip is to make better use of online social networks; particularly to make contact with new people. Your friendsʼ friends may be just who you need to be talking to.

So get out there. Be open. Be smart. Ask questions. Ask your friends who you should meet. Do it online, do it in the flesh.

Make the serendipitous possible. Position yourself both physically and psychically. The chance encounter could be your ticket to a new gig or to the new idea that changes everything.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Goofing off can be good for business

I can’t stress enough the importance of downtime.  And this is the time of year when you can practice taking some and remember how good it is.  Turn off your internet (but not until after you’ve read this article). Put away your smartphone.  Tell people you have gone away and can’t be reached.  Go away and be unreachable.  Read a novel.  Catch a fish.  Build a wall.  Cut the grass.  Go to a concert. Invite your friends for a bbq.

And do these things whole heartedly.  Don’t be checking in.  Don’t be planning next week’s to-do list.

And here is an interesting idea I got from a commencement address given by David Foster Wallace shortly before his death – don’t be the center of your own universe.  Or at least consider the universe that you inhabit – whether its your family or your job or your town – and look at it afresh and consider your position in it and where it fits with everything else and what everyone else in it is doing and feeling and what the opportunities are and what your dreams are and close your eyes and let them fly.

DFW tells the following story:  “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

So go think about your water.  What is your water?  And where can it take you. Go read the inside of your eyelids and see what they tell you.

It is summer.  Give yourself a break.  All the stuff you have been thinking about and fretting about and staying awake about will still be in there, but it will be sorting itself out in your unconscious.  It will be making connections you couldn’t make if you were trying.  Let it simmer and percolate.

Put on the calendar the days you will be taking off and go camping.  Or hiking.  Go on, challenge yourself. There is nothing like some serious walking to keep you concentrated, focused.  You think about your feet and your water bottle.  You think about your food and the awesomeness of nature, or you think about how waterproof is your poncho and where you will pitch your tent.  It is completely engrossing and it is a wonderful way to put the cares of the workaday world aside and sort themselves out without your conscious interference.

Give it a try.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Job Hunting: Research, Connect and Summarize

This article by Michael Pollock first appeared in Cynopsis Classified Advantage.

Once you are clear in your own mind on the value you offer a potential employer, there are three main keys to focus on as you look for a job: research, connect and summarize.

Research: Start by identifying at least 10 companies that look as if they need exactly that thing that you are good at: businesses that operate in your niche and surely need the skills and experience that only you offer. The more specific your value statement, the narrower and more productive will be your list of target companies. Learn as much as you can about these businesses. As you dive into this research, you will be led to other companies and you will relegate some to the back burner. Become clearer about the work you want to do, and keep this goal in mind to help you prioritize.

Connect: Use your search engines and LinkedIn and exploit all your networks to get introduced to people who work in the companies on your target list. Volunteer for work in the field so you can get experience and build your network. Ask the people you meet how they do their work, what they need, what keeps them up at night, where they are headed, and you will start to figure out where you can fit in. Keep in touch with everyone  not in an annoying "What have you done for me recently" sort of way, but in a helpful "Here is what I have been doing and learned that might interest you" sort of way.

Summarize: As you meet new contacts, listen to yourself. You will find yourself telling them who you are, and as you do so you'll be summarizing your value concisely and effectively: "Here is what I can do and here are three reasons why I am the best person to do it." See how it sounds. Do they engage with it and want to know more? Was it in fact concise and effective? Try out new versions. Make it better and stronger. Use it in your cover letters and resume.

That summary of your value is what people will remember about you. It focuses on what value you provide and not on the tiresome fact that you need a job. They will then tell their relevant colleagues that they should see you because you are precisely who they are searching for. Your story could start going viral!

These steps bear very much in mind that statistics tell us you are vastly more likely to get a job from a personal connection than not. And that many jobs are not advertised publicly.

So the three keys to remember: research, connect and summarize.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Coaching results - TV biz client

Here are excerpts from the report of an executive in the TV business who wanted to refresh her career and recently completed a course of Pollock Spark coaching:

Q: What are some of the things that you were enabled to understand or to achieve as a result of our work?
I have a much better understanding of what I’d been doing wrong.  
You helped me figure out who I am professionally and that my identity is potentially valuable to clients or an employer. 
I have  clear sense of what I really want to be doing versus what kind of jobs I thought I should be looking for.

I am able to think about Me and My Experience as “products” and/or “services” that need to be branded and marketed.

I understand the importance of synthesizing my core value to a potential employer/client and how to use that as a frame for an interview and my website.

I learned how to tell stories that distinguish me from other(s in my field).

I learned how to write a shorter, better cover letter that is an advertisement for Me.

Your guidance and suggestions concerning my website were awesome.

It was also really good for me to have deadlines and “assignments” and to have upcoming sessions sort of hanging over my head so that I wouldn’t procrastinate.

Q:  We conducted many of our sessions on the phone – did you find this to be an effective method?  What was good or not good about it?
On the phone versus in person is a bit like the difference between radio and TV.  Radio allows the listener to focus more on meaning, so your brain is actually more engaged in the topic, as opposed to TV which engages brain activity that in some ways is superfluous and emotionally off target.

Q:  Would you recommend this coaching to others?  How would you describe it?
I would definitely recommend it to others.  How I would describe it would be tailored to who the person is, kind of like tailoring a cover letter and resume.  But in general, I will tell people that you are wonderful, brilliant, insightful and that I wish I had discovered you a year ago.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Could you be stifling innovation instead of encouraging it?

Change is a pre-requisite for survival - whether as an individual or as part of an  organization.  

How are you going to get the people in your team to think and act innovatively so that you can change and improve the services or products you offer to keep up with demand and with the competition. 

The challenge is nicely laid out by Prof John Bessant in his eminently readable book "High Involvement Innovation" (see below).

When you start to look at whether your organization supports innovation or whether it actually inhibits it, a good way is to ask people to tell you their favorite "killer phrases".  This will quickly show the ways that ideas are getting killed - and how this can work to prevent the kind of effective innovations that we perhaps thought we were encouraging.

They often take for form of "Great idea...BUT..."  BUT: now that's how to stop an idea in its tracks. If people get used being told "no" in these ways they will soon stop even trying to propose new ideas.

Here are some "killer phrases" running inside people's heads:

I've got a good idea - BUT
   No-one will listen to me
   It's not my job to offer ideas
   Someone else must already have thought of it
   I'll look stupid if I say anything

At the group or organization level they might look like this:

That's a great idea - BUT
   We've already tried it
   We've never tried it
   We don't have time / money/people/other resources
   X wouldn't like it
   X would like it (!)
   It's not the way we do things around here
   We did that last year and look what happened.

So start by asking yourself or your teams what are their killer phrases. Then you will begin to see what has to be done to alter the climate so that the ideas, some of which will mean the difference between success and failure, can come to the surface and be taken seriously, tested and implemented. 

If your culture has evolved to stifle innovation - then innovation you will not get.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Coaching feedback - this stuff works!

I just completed a course of coaching with a client in the film/TV business.  Here are some excerpts from his review of our work:
We accomplished the goals extremely well. I went from lackluster “brand” materials (cover letter, resume, etc) in serious need of improvement to getting job offers and finding new opportunities in the span of weeks. Before the sessions, my general outlook was also somewhat dire. From the beginning, Michael saw my strengths and encouraged them. Every bit of advice has come in handy so far and I am 100% confident that it will for years to come.
I genuinely feel that this whole experience was priceless and look forward to continuing to use what I learned from the coaching sessions for years to come…My only regret is that I did not find Pollock|Spark sooner! Thank you so much, Michael!  I can’t say that enough.

What one man did to get hired

This is the story of a man who really wanted a job. For 5 years he had run a successful small web design firm in Gainesville, getting clients by word of mouth and by befriending small business owners. But he had moved to New York and this was a different kettle of fish. “In New York all the doors are locked” he told me. “There was no dropping by and making friends, and I had no word of mouth. New York kicked my ass. So I started looking for a proper corporate job in web design.”

He started with Craigslist. It had worked well for him in Florida and he was comfortable with it. But he only got back a couple of thank-you notes. He tried Monster and other job sites: from them he got back nothing but spam.

“So I created two fake job postings on Craigslist to see what the competition was like. I got 200-300 emails in the first 6 hours – they were all super-qualified. I looked at what they had written and I created a template letter of my own, based on the best of what I saw.”

“I gave up on the other sites and focused 100% of my energy on Craigslist, refining my search and hitting refresh, refresh so I could see the latest jobs. As soon as a new posting appeared I sent my application. And I knew my letter was good because I had studied the best ones out there.”

“But my experience with the fake postings, the hundreds of applications, made me think that an employer is going to get bored after reading just 30 or so. So I realized that my own job was to be number one in their inbox. I was refreshing my search every ten minutes. But this wasnʼt quick enough. This was a giant race with 200 people, all starting at the same time. Seconds matter if you want to be the first.”

So instead of refreshing the web page and then going to his mail to apply, he set up an RSS feed from his Craigslist search directly into his mail client, so he could get from the posting to his response in fewer clicks.

“In a week or so I had it down to a science. I was super-comfortable with it. I deleted any new jobs when I got up in the morning, as I was already too late for them. I had the bugs removed and everything was virtually perfect. I figure I had my response time down to about 7 seconds after a job had posted.”

Driven by his drive to be first in the inbox, the system quickly produced results. In the following week he received four requests for interviews. One of them was at, a dream position – where he now happily works.

From corporate to own business - Part two

Priti Punjabi had left a good corporate job to challenge herself and awaken her creative spirit. She started a dog daycare business – to see if she could do it. (For the story so far )

Once she had the space rented, Priti found that her advertising expertise was a big asset. “I actually know more about consumers than about dogs,” she told me. “I started building a brand and working out what the consumer wanted. I wanted to reflect the neighborhood (young professionals, music clubs, creative freelancers and hipsters) so I called it Dog Addiction. To really set it apart from the competition we play music to the dogs at all times: Iʼve trademarked the name BehaviorBeats“

She did all the PR and advertising herself, placing toy dogs by mailboxes and bike racks all over the area with a note tied to them saying “Iʼd rather be at Dog Addiction.” Ads told freelancers that their dogs were getting bored sitting at home watching them work all day.

Asked what is the hardest part, Priti says firmly, “Managing the budget. My mum taught me to pay everyone else before you pay yourself. I have always paid every employee on time. I like being the boss. I have the same employees since I opened. I keep them happy.”

“As humans we lose the fearlessness with age and are too afraid to take a gamble. I am 30 now. My business is breaking even. When I first opened I never wanted to leave it – it became my baby.”

Running her own business has given her more flexibility. She has written a 17-chapter novel and had a show of her photographs. “I would never have been able to do these if I had been working in a corporation. It is essential to explore your creative juices.”

Growth has been slower than expected, due to the poor economy, so she is considering going back for a stint in the ad business and leaving her manager in charge of the store. “My business is going to make me a living – and I will never be prisoner to the corporation. I donʼt ever want to be called into an office and told that: an issue has arisen…”

“And donʼt feel defeated if your business is not a flying success – that doesnʼt make you a failure – on the contrary you are a success for having tried it and for everything you learned from it. Even if you decide to go back – you have the experience under your belt. This experience makes you a more valuable employee. You understand the value of a dollar and how to work better with your co-workers. It has given you the opportunity to release the creative spirit that has to be allowed to flourish.”

“The point is to do something that is your own.”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

13 snapshots from coaching = 13 ideas for you

Journalist or personal brand?
A journalist is working with me to define her long term goal.  Super-busy and writing for major titles now, but where is this going, she wants to know.  Is it about books or appearances or a content specialty?  We have moved towards defining the aspirational goal and are embarking on tactics that will bring us closer to it while still maintaining and enriching the base of work.

 But it’s not self-promotion!
A client who was never comfortable promoting herself has developed an effective way to reach out.  She now says  “I’ve proved the theory: if you ask you get it.  I feel good about myself.  I am more comfortable calling people: its not pushy, it’s doing  something for them.”

 Transition to a management role
A client who was a very good craftsman had been promoted to running his whole creative office.  This transition is not as easy as it looks for most creative types. He was helped to develop more effective time management practices, prioritization and delegation techniques and to figure out how to motivate creative staff and to keep them happy.

 Meeting Prep
Research as much as you can about the person you are going to be meeting.  Don't assume anything.  The more you know the smarter you will be.   A client followed this advice this week and what she discovered “gave me a different sense of the company.”

Strength in your stories
Another client fed back to me in her own words one of the core ideas we had been working on: “I have to have my stories back in my mind and draw on them and bring them out at the appropriate time. The fact that I have been working on them and focusing them makes them that much stronger.”

Sweat your resume
A client working on a resume discovered that its communication can be powerfully affected by the choice of layout, type face and emphasis.  He created several versions, varying the summary and the layout.  Together we evaluated them making choices to get the best possible result.

 But what do you really want to do?
I am working with clients to focus their long term dreams and goals, so that we know whether short to medium term decisions are heading us in the right direction.

 How to think about your website

Planning a website with a client we thought through what a potential buyer is looking for when they come to the site and then decided what we want him to do when he gets there.

 Interview prep rocks results
During interview prep with a senior executive who was meeting with a corporate CEO I made up some likely questions and we practiced her responses.  After the interview she emailed me that many of his questions were “straight from our rehearsal.”  So she was ready for them.

 How to thrive in a corporate restructure
I have a client in a leading TV firm who is facing corporate restructuring.  She will thrive and advance in the evolution, not least because we have put thought and time into defining her turf and job scope and strategizing, on a weekly basis, how to manage up and across effectively.

 Plan B and Plan A
Working with a couple of clients on two fronts: a "corporate job" front and a "start my own business" front.  In the short term when there are bills to be paid and investment to be made it is the practical solution.

 Startup marketing

With a client who is starting a new business we have developed the main message and begun on the website – now we are moving to targeted outreach.  We have defined our tactics and are now providing the motivation to make progress on sales calls and affordable marketing programs.

 KickStart your marketing
A design firm for whom I led a Marketing Intensive KickStart Workshop has launched its new website – on schedule.  They emailed:  “Thanks for all your input in helping us pull this together."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Q+A: Resume format and functional resumes

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: Is there "one" format for resumes or does anything work as long as its clear and easy to read?

A: Don't get boxed in by a resume template  you should format your resume to suit your situation. Your resume has to make the hirer see quickly that you are a match for their needs and want to meet you. Actually, in this competitive climate you have to be better than a match. The format should make this possible. In the words of a recruiter I spoke with: "The focus and thread through the experience needs to be clear and concise."

The format you decide to use can depend on the type of role you seek and your level of experience. A junior level candidate would not have all the "key words experience" of a more senior candidate, but still needs to tell a compelling story of what they do offer. A technical producer or information architect would choose to focus on software and site technical skills, where a creative candidate would focus more on the types of projects, indicating their contribution and providing links to online samples. Marketers should get specific on areas of special expertise.

This content is what the resume is about first and foremost. The format you present in needs to be a quick easy-to-read communication that hits all the buttons appropriate to the position in question.

Q: I have heard negative things about functional resumes. Is there a time where someone without anything to hide use a functional resume?

A: A recruiter told me: "I always question the functional resumes. I prefer to see those who are transparent and clear about what they've done and where they've done it. It may make sense for career transitioners, those who have minimal experience in their chosen field. In these cases, it's important to take the necessary steps towards experience to get back on a career track displayed in a chronological resume format."

So try and present a chronological story, but remember that with layout and careful writing and smart choices you can emphasize your functional skills and experience even within this format so that the overall impression is the one you want to give.

Q+A: What if my boss doesn't like me?

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: I'm pretty sure my boss does not like me, though my work has always been complimented. Should I remain silent about this awkward issue, talk to him about it, talk to someone else? I really believe it's personal, and it makes me feel uncomfortable, but what if I am wrong and do talk to him? Doesn't that make me look like an idiot? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

A: If your boss is making you uncomfortable by demonstrating his dislike in an inappropriate way then you should talk to someone in HR. I do not recommend that you ask him directly why he doesn't like you: this will not be productive. But I do suggest that you go to him and say that you would like a performance review and please could you set a time to meet with him for this. This review is not going to overtly address his personal likes and dislikes, but it is likely to uncover issues that pertain, and it gives you the opportunity to ask how you could improve your performance. This exchange may elicit what you need to know. If this doesn't clear the air, then the next step could be to ask for transfer to another group.

Q+A: Should I leave things off the resume?

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: The current philosophy in applying for jobs is to tailor your resume to the specific job. This make total sense, however, leaving off positions that don't directly relate can cause large gaps in dates and omit some of your most recent experience. How should this be handled?

A: First a presentation trick: if you list your jobs by year and are not specific as to months  then for instance a gap from February 2008 to November 2009 could well disappear.

But maybe you don't have to leave things off. First you should try and identify an aspect of what you did or experienced at the apparently irrelevant job that can be presented to actually strengthen your case. For an extreme example: if you took a year out to work in your father's shoe store  you probably gained invaluable experience in selling or in fashion changes or something that might make you that much more valuable to the job you are going after. So don't throw anything out until you are sure it will hurt you. You should present everything you have done in a way that demonstrates that you are unique and special. The apparently unrelated job may look at first sight like a lemon  but do try and find the lemonade inside it!

But yes, you should avoid gaps - or plug them with something. Were you working on a personal project or volunteering at a nonprofit or traveling? These could all be completely laudable explanations for not having a formal job for a period of time and may even strengthen your case.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Creative Manager - Part two

Itʼs always helpful to know what the boss is thinking – whether you are trying to advance within a company, or to get hired. I spoke recently to Aaron Harvey, Partner/COO of digital agency Purple, Rock, Scissors of FL and NY. Asked how he recruits creatives, Harvey told me that he doesnʼt advertise jobs – he posts them on the companyʼs website and they have some partnerships with select schools; but mostly the way they get new employees is by word of mouth. And he added: “We are all music fans here – when we are hiring we look at peoples iPod lists.”

When Harvey first came to Purple Rock Scissors, he told me: “We were a revolving door. There is a challenge when you bring in young people to a smaller company. They get to do a lot more and get much more experience than in a larger company, so they are likely to be wearing more hats more quickly. If they talk to their friends at bigger shops they start to think – ʻHey, I am underpaid for what I am doing here.ʼ A lot of this comes down to the culture,” he says. “There is a lot more that goes into the decision to stay with a firm than just money. The culture and the vision of the company are very important in the decisions made by creative employees.”

“The title thing is important to empower people: there s a level of achievement. We may want to give the best, most devoted developer a promotion – though he may not be able to stand up in front of a client or have the ability to sell his work. So we try to groom people as much as possible. We include them in more and more client meetings – first to watch and then gradually to participate until they can do it on their own.”

“The issue comes when the internal move isnʼt working and you bring someone new in. Then toes are stepped on. I may have promoted the designer to Creative Director, but they canʼt sell the work and canʼt manage a team. We learned to deal with this by being very specific in defining job specs, with the employeeʼs help, so they know they are not just evaluated on their design but also on selling, and management and other factors. There is a formal evaluation process: we have them do self-evaluations and then see how they stacked up – and on how they manage their time sheets.”

Click here to see more of Aaron Harvey's insights

This article by Michael Pollock first appeared in Cynopsis Digital Advantage.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Keeping staff happy: a creative manager's POV

I have been talking to the COO of a digital agency about the special issues that arise when managing a staff of creatives. This is certainly interesting to other creative managers; but job-seekers too will find useful insights and there is good information for staffers aiming for promotions. Part One of this conversation is contained here.

"Without constant revitalization, minds can start to wander," says Aaron Harvey, Partner/COO of digital agency Purple, Rock, Scissors of Orlando and New York, as we talk about the special issues related to managing creative staff. "If you don't have a revival on a quarterly basis then people do start to complain. The conversations start very quietly with whispers."

"The only way to mitigate that," he says, "is to get involved one-on-one with your employees on a personal basis - so they can let out the things they are thinking and you can do a temperature check and quash the issues before they become a problem. Otherwise unhappiness can spiral out of control very quickly."

"Information is also key - when people are disconnected strategically - when they don't understand the direction of the company and are not invested - when thy don't know about new business pitches, or a new sector the company is pursuing - if they are siloed off - this is a cause of discontent." He tells me that communication with the staff is "a two-way street. We open up dialog through social space. We have an online area in a Basecamp where we get ideas from staff - but this needs nurturing, sometimes it is active, but sometimes it goes quiet."

"To motivate better work, we have to play to how they like to do it; give them freedom to get in the zone and not just have to stamp against the clock; give the freedom to work from home or the beach - letting them know that it is due on Friday," Harvey told me.  As the company grows, things get more complex: "We have to empower mid-level people to find a way that says: If you rock this out for me over the weekend - here's a little reward."

Harvey says that he believes there's an inbred mentality in ad agencies to exploit their employees. "We hire out of school: super-green, super-hungry. We give them the experience and we make them work. We are a deadline driven industry - so when we hire them, we tell them they may have to work a 40-hour week or an 80-hour week - that is the nature of the beast. Every ad agency has a foosball team. I am a major advocate of the bonding that comes with this. It is good to be able to take a break at 6 o'clock and play foosball together. It makes it that much easier to get back to work later."

Learn what Aaron Harvey had to say about giving promotions and how he recruits new employees in Part Two.

Steinbeck on jargon

Since we returned from a winter break in Mexico's Baja California, I have been reading John Steinbeck's delightful book Sea of Cortez.

An account of an expedition he undertook just as WWII was breaking out in Europe, it's witty, humane and most charming. It is about survival and biology and exploration and discovery and politics and "civilization". And drinking. One of its most vivid characters is the Sea-Cow: his willful outboard motor!

In this excerpt Steinbeck goes on a rant about scientists and their obscure jargon. This is something that we should all pay attention to in our own fields - whether marketing or architecture or design or film. You know what I'm talking about.

"It has seemed sometimes that the little men in scientific work assumed the awe-fullness of a priesthood to hide their deficiencies, as the witch-doctor does with his stilts and high masks, as the priesthoods of all cults have, with secret or unfamiliar languages and symbols. It is usually found that only the little stuffy men object to what is called "popularization," by which they mean writing with a clarity understandable to one not familiar with the tricks and codes of the cult. We have not known a single great scientist who could not discourse freely and interestingly with a child. Can it be that the haters of clarity have nothing to say, have observed nothing, have no clear picture of even their own fields? A dull man seems to be a dull man no matter what his field, and of course it is the right of a dull scientist to protect himself with feathers and robes, emblems and degrees, as do other dull men who are potentates and grand imperial rulers of lodges of dull men."

Leaving a corporate job to start a business - Part one

I recently saw the movie Lemonade." Priti Punjabi told me. "Itʼs about really smart people who got laid off from advertising. They had been stuck into the routine of a job and the spirit inside them had gone to sleep. When I quit my corporate job I had wanted to awaken that spirit in myself and not be forced to have to do it by circumstances beyond my control."

Priti got her first advertising job around 9/11. "I was green," she said. "But I soon realized that you could lose your job at any time." After stints in a couple of ad agencies, she landed a job in a well-known global ad corporation. "It is a great company. I was passionate about my work. But then came the little reminder. I got a new boss around the time I was facing some personal issues. She had not seen how
hard I had been working, and she challenged me, asking ʻDo you want this job or not?ʼ I looked at the employee manual and discovered that the company policy for bereavement leave was just three days. And then I looked across at the person in the office opposite:she had to come back to work just 3 months after having a baby."

Her conversation with her new boss had stirred something up. Priti asked herself if the corporate structure was really for her. "I decided I wanted to challenge myself to open my own business. But," she wondered, "Can I do this?" She first thought about opening a youth hostel; but quickly realized that would cost too much money - and besides, she wasnʼt sure she had the confidence to take on
something that big. Then a friend suggested that dog daycare was a growing business.

Priti had a new dog and was paying someone $30 a day to play with it. This felt like a business she could get her feet wet in. "Williamsburg in Brooklyn is a busy, hot area - this is where I wanted to put it. I found a place - and a silent partner to help fund it."

She prepared a business plan, though she told me "I think it is kinda bullshit. After all, what are those projected numbers? They are just made up." But her landlord asked to see it before he would give her a lease on the space - so it was not in vain.

"The whole thing was very scary - but I thrive on the gamble. I think that itʼs about retaining the youthful fearlessness - you need to keep it alive for your own sake."

Read more of Pritiʼs story here soon

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hybrid background? A terrific job qualification.

I spoke recently with an executive who had a most successful corporate career in the TV business and has since for some years been in more entrepreneurial positions developing projects and new businesses. He wants to get back to a more structured environment but is concerned that having been out of the corporate system for some years might disqualify him. His thought was that corporations are looking for neat fits of people who are currently or have recently been in corporate jobs and that his time outside the fence would disqualify him.

Well it shouldn' t. Everyone I talk to in big media firms is telling me the same story  and that is of restructuring and rethinking and new business models and fewer people doing the work that used to be done by many ... and smaller paychecks. Does that sound right, my corporate friends?

My experience is that people who have grown up in highly structured organizations where everyone knows where they fit into the pecking order, and who has what title and so on, are not always the best people to implement the kinds of changes that are needed to bring media firms up to date. The status quo that corporate employees have long thrived on is dead. That security blanket is no more. In fact things will be in a constant state of flux for the foreseeable future so anyone who works best in a fixed orbit with known parameters will not fare well or be sufficiently effective.

But someone who has not only worked successfully in a corporate environment, yet can also bring first hand experience of an inventive, open and entrepreneurial way of thinking to the table, will be enormously valuable in so many companies today. This combination is something that corporate managers should be looking for.

I suggest to you that if you have this hybrid background, you would do well to frame yourself in those terms: as an entrepreneurial change agent who is excited at the prospect of helping to mold the new media world, yet still able to work collegially within the system.  This combo could be your edge.

So this is a word to corporate hiring executives and to those who aspire to get in there and help reinvent the media business. All experience is good experience. And a candidate with a variety of experience is often a stronger one than the person who has stayed "on track" for their whole career.

This article by Michael Pollock first published in Cynopsis Advantage.

Q+A:How should I address my interviewer?

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: If the interviewer doesn't tell you want to call him/her, should I use their last name? Show confidence and refer to them by their first name? Go formal and use Miss, Mrs. or Ms.? Sir? Ma'am?

A: For the media business I would avoid anything too formal.  But of course be polite. You should probably enter the room confidently and as you go for the handshake, introduce yourself by your first and last name. Perhaps you'll get a cue from your interviewer: if they call you by your first name then you can respond in kind.

But really, if there are only two of you in the room, why do you need to use a name at all? They know who you are talking to. I myself find it extremely irritating when people use my name to me in a form like, "I am glad you asked that, Michael." Or "Let me tell you something, Mr. Pollock." (Was Dale Carnegie responsible for this?)

So on balance you will most likely get through the whole interview without needing to call them anything. Just keep your mind on being the best person to solve their problem, and try not to fret about the name thing.

Q+A:What should I bring to an interview?

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: What should I bring to an interview? I don't want to bring too much stuff, and yet be prepared for anything.

A: Bring your portfolio of work if that applies. Bring your sizzle reel or other material that can be left behind. Bring a few copies of your resume. Bring a notebook and pen in case you get any ideas or learn anything that you need to remember. That is about it.

The most important stuff will be in your head: who you are, why you are valuable, your stories that demonstrate this, your knowledge of the company and understanding of their brand, your grasp of what they are looking for. Internalize all this, relax and remember they need you just as much as you need them. And don't forget to turn your phone off!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Have your stories ready

Pitching an idea? Looking for a job? Facing an interview? Then tell stories. This simple and time-honored technique lies at the heart of the way to sell yourself and your ideas.

Tell your stories. Tell stories that will suck people in, make their eyes open wider and then watch them lean in and want to hear more.

If you choose your stories well – which incidentally I insist that you do – then each of these stories will, as subtext, tell the story of you that you want to tell. Tell of things that you did in your career, of successes and excitements. (Donʼt bother with the disasters and the failures – the story of how you were not able to sell your great idea will work against you, however good the idea may have been.)

Make them vivid and specific – name names and brands and programs and networks. If you have worked in another country, if you have built a business or started from scratch or developed a team – have the story ready. When you do this you will find that the stories engage not only the listener, but also you the storyteller. Telling your stories will give you energy you didnʼt know you had, and that will be infectious.

I am working with a client who is enormously accomplished but had been talking about herself in generalizations. Even she was bored when she talked about herself. We worked on choosing some stories that would speak volumes about her value and experience. We talked about picking from among them, the stories that would work for a particular situation or interviewer. We talked about how the
stories she told would add up to a compelling picture of who she is and what sheʼs done and what value she brings: in specifics not in generalizations.

My client had an interview yesterday. She told me today that it was a “Great” interview.” “Why?” I asked. “Because for the first time in an interview I told stories. Telling them gave me a confidence that I never had. And while usually I feel I am too quiet, this gave me energy.”

So think about the stories from your career. Pick the ones that you get excited about and frame them so that they frame you brilliantly. And tell them.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Design firm gets team in sync for marketing effort

It’s critical that my clients – especially the creative people I work with – are deeply involved with their own professional development, both strategically and tactically.  Just telling them what they should do doesn’t work. Without full understanding of why to take a particular course of action – and without having worked through the possibilities and come to the conclusion themselves – they will not follow through.

So the way I work has developed over time, moving from traditional consulting methods to incorporate the tools and techniques of coaching and workshops:  I help my clients to arrive at their own conclusions.   I create the framework, bringing my experience and suggestions to the table so that ultimately my clients are enabled to address their own challenges and discover their own opportunities.

The effect is magnified when I work with a team as it's reinforced and multiplied by their collaboration over time.  A most valuable added benefit for teams is that they learn anew how to work with each other.  A Workshop takes them out of their regular day-to day roles and they step back and revisit the larger picture. 

I recently led a Marketing Workshop with the core team of a design firm and here is what the owner told me afterwards:

“The work we did together was certainly helpful, for me to have an outside perspective, but perhaps the most important thing being that we all thought as a team and came to an understanding of what it means to work at (the company) and what we stand for.”

These words made my heart glad.  After all, how effective can your marketing be if it does not spring from these fundamental understandings.  This is exactly the sort of result that a Workshop can provide.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Q+A: How many interviews?

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

If I am interviewing at a large corporation, how many interviews will I have before interviewing with the person that actually makes the decision?

The hiring decision is effectively made jointly by all your interviewers  you often can' t tell who are the ones that really count. Any one of them could have veto power.

Often the second person you meet is the one who is kinda sorta making the decision  except that they may need to run it by some others who could say no: could be other team members, or it could be their supervisor who wants to vet the one or two finalists.

So you have to assume that each person you meet is the key one. In my corporate life I have seen candidates meet with five or six people after the key manager and they each had veto power. Overkill? Probably. A way of stalling a decision? Certainly. But each of those interview reports added to the picture. And don' t ever forget that it is easier for them to say no than to say yes.

Michael Pollock is President of Pollock Spark ( He is an Executive Coach and Consultant to Creative and Media professionals.

How to make word of mouth work for you

We know that most business and most jobs come from connections.  So it is much to be desired that your friends and colleagues and clients tell their connections about your value and what you can do for them. 

In fact since valuable information is a premier form of currency, in business and socially, people actually like to pass it on.  It gives them credit, it aggrandizes them as someone in the know.  They get points for good leads. 

So do them a favor and make it easy for them.  Give them guidance in what they say about you.  Give them the words, the value statement, the anecdotes, that will make them eager to pass it on.  But you won't be saying to them directly "Here's what you should say when you talk about my business."  You will be talking about yourself and your work in such a way that it becomes clear to them how they will talk about you.  They will have loved the story you told them - that carefully chosen story that underscores your capabilities.  They will have loved it so much that they will tell it over and over again.  Because it makes them seem - yes - in the know.

Are people pleased to hear from you?

When people hear your name in a voice-mail or see you in their inbox, how do they feel? Which messages do they want to respond to first (or at all)?

My guess is that they will want to reply to someone who is going to help them; someone who can offer them advice, or come up with just the service they need; someone who'll give them some useful information. They probably will not be so interested in talking to someone who always wants something from them, or is going to nag them or make them feel guilty, or have to explain themselves.

And please don't say to them, "Didn't you get my messages last week?"  That puts them way on the back foot.  If they haven't responded, just go into the conversation, or message, as if this was the first time. 

Think about it;  when you look at your messages, whose calls do you respond to? Put yourself in their place when you pick up the phone, or hit "send."

BehavioraI Interviewing - what it means to you

by Michael Pollock

This article first appeared in Cynopsis Digital Advantage

I love that people give things names. I guess it helps the search engines. So there is an interview practice called Behavioral Interviewing. It posits that you can tell most about how someone will perform by finding out how they performed in similar situations in the past. We have all probably asked, or responded to, interview questions that tip the hat to this thinking.

Interviewers decide what skills and aptitudes are needed for a particular position: problem solving, leadership, communication, team building and so on. Then they will ask candidates to recount how they have behaved in the past in situations that will demonstrate past performance at these.

Here are some behavioral interview questions developed by The College at Brockport of SUNY:
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to keep from speaking or making a decision because you did not have enough information.
  • Have you ever had difficulty getting others to accept your ideas? What was your approach? Did it work?
  • Have you ever had to "sell" an idea to your co-workers or group? How did you do it? Did they "buy" it?
  • Describe a recent unpopular decision you made and what the result was.
  • Describe an instance when you had to think on your feet to extricate yourself from a difficult situation.

This style is a simple and effective discovery format for interviewers and provides candidates with the perfect platform for using their pre-prepared career-success anecdotes to best advantage.

The SUNY report also tells me the following:
  • Candidates who prepare for behavioral interviews are better prepared - even for traditional interviews.
  • Using behavioral answers works well with inexperienced interviewers.
  • Companies that invest the time and energy in developing behavioral interviews often attract top candidates. Top candidates make the company a more desirable place to work.

You should in any case have developed a whole slew of anecdotes that illustrate your past performance (see my columns passim). Make them totally specific, with as many details as you can to make them vivid and powerful.

Do your due diligence on the job you are going after. Make some smart guesses as to what they are going to be needing  there will be clues in the job ad and also in any conversations you have had with them. Think about each of your stories and what it exemplifies about your experience and your approach to situations. This will give you the ammunition you need to impress at any interview, behavioral or traditional.

Michael Pollock is President of Pollock Spark ( ). He is an Executive Coach and Consultant to Creative and Media professionals. He works with people in film, TV, advertising, design, marketing, music and the Internet, bringing them the experience, techniques and inspiration to take their businesses and careers to new levels of success.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What does your next level look like?

I sent this as a special and yes, loving, Valentine's Day Sparkings dedicated to my clients past, present and future.  I love your ambition, your ideas, your determination and most of all your passion.  It's our passion that appeals to clients and employers.  Its our passion that appeals to the talented people we work with.  And its our passion that propels our careers or businesses to the next level.  (What, you surely didn't think this was going to be some sort of sappy Hallmark card?)

But what is the next level?  What does it mean to you?  Of course each of us has our own passion - our own idea of what that next level is. Life is no Prince of Persia where we are all after the same things. There are no cheat codes for us! 

I thought it would be helpful to describe briefly some of the next levels that I am talking about with clients right now.  You may see something that helps you clarify your own thinking as you plot strategy for your next steps. 

What's your next level? 

Here's what some pollock|spark clients - all creative professionals - are working toward achieving.  Each of them driven by their own particular passion.

A graphics design firm that has more work than it can handle is charting a plan to manage growth and stay true to its love of design.

A passionate lifelong music lover who is an expert on complex contractual deals is positioning herself for a stronger focus on the music licensing business.

A print journalist is moving into TV to build a stronger platform for her work.

An industrial design firm is focusing and revamping its marketing efforts to get more of the kind of work they love.

A print magazine editor is building her presence as an expert.

A film director has focused the work on the stuff that comes from the heart - and is now signing representation agreements.

An architect with an artistic background is positioning for opportunities to positively affect the urban environment.

A film editing company is restructuring to apply their talents to the changing advertising market.

An accomplished music producer is designing a new business model to realize his vision.

A PR firm's manager is energizind his staff by passing on to them the skills he has built up over his career - the things that excite him.

All those terrific TV industry folks who respond to my Cynopsis career advice columns are identifying their own passions, focusing their resumes and seeking out just the right job opportunities.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How to Fill Gaps Between Jobs Productively

How to Fill Gaps Between Jobs Productively
by Michael Pollock

I have been asked how professionals who were once in the thick of things should fill in the time between jobs so that employers will still take them seriously.

Just because you don't have an office to go to every day doesn't mean that you aren't in the business. In fact you have more time than you used to have to make yourself the expert on the latest developments. Find out what skills are being sought  ask what are the capabilities that employers are having trouble finding and go get that skill for yourself.

Hirers don't have time to train new staff any more  they want someone to hit the ground running  so you need to be that person.

Have an answer to the question: "What are you working on now?" (Think of it first as an answer you give to yourself.) Find something that you care about and are interested in  and do it. It could be the new technology that you are learning. You could be writing an article on the latest developments in your field  and the good news is that today you don't have to worry about not getting it published, you just put it out on your blog and tweet it onwards. Go to meetups in your field and find out what is new and what is going on and who is doing what.

There are things you can write on your resume or in your cover letter: you are blogging on the bleeding edge of your field, you are taking the new skills course, you are contributing your abilities to a nonprofit  put it down  show that you are doing something that is relevant  that you have a job in the field  because you do  even though you may not be getting paid just yet.

But this is still narrow thinking. You can go further. Try to understand what will make you attractive to a hirer. It may be that an international business will appreciate that you spent three months working in retail in Paris. A qualification like that could really set you apart from your competitors.  A company that encourages initiative and bold thinking might be attracted by that fact that you spent the summer sky-diving in the Andes with the condors. Or went to Outward Bound.

Think broadly about what can make you attractive and tailor your activity to that. Present what you have been doing as a coherent effort to make yourself a more valuable person  skills, leadership, adventure, initiative. It will give you something productive to talk about and that will make you a stronger candidate.

Michael Pollock is President of Pollock Spark ( ). He is an Executive Coach and Consultant to Creative and Media professionals. He works with people in film, TV, advertising, design, marketing, music and the Internet, bringing them the experience, techniques and inspiration to take their businesses and careers to new levels of success.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Career Planning Workshop

I took part in a terrific panel titled: Career Planning Strategies & Tools for Progressive Professionals organized by Metierlink's Sonia Jairath this past Wednesday.

My co-panelists were Lisa Rangel, Managing Director of Chameleon Resumes and Tom Jago, MD of recruiting firm The Ward Group.

In attendance were 40 professionals from video, digital marketing, graphic design, journalism, marketing and other creative fields.

The discussion covered career evolution strategies, resume writing,  personal branding,  what recruiters really do and even how to be nice to HR people.

Attendees said they learned much more than they have at other career focused events. One email I received said "Great Presentation. Your creative perspective was most interesting, thanks for your advice."

Hey gotta share this stuff, right?

So here's how we looked against the green screen - I wonder what backdrop we should put in there!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Go out and sell!

Love this from the NYT interview with Cristóbal Conde, president and C.E.O. of SunGard

Q. What’s your best career advice for young people?

A. My advice to young people is always, along the way, have a sales job. You could be selling sweaters. You could be selling ice cream on the street. It doesn’t matter. Selling something to somebody who doesn’t want to buy it is a lifelong skill. I can tell when somebody comes in for an interview and they’ve never had any responsibility for sales.

Here is the rest of the interview

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Staff morale and motivation

I have been speaking to leaders of creative businesses about what it will take to strengthen the morale and motivation of their creative staff.

I have seen some businesses that quantitatively poll their people, asking them to rank such things as their work-life balance on a scale, and also to rank their satisfaction with their salaries. Hmm. I wonder what sort of answers they are getting. Actually the answers they get are not that helpful and it is tough to know what to do with the information - which appears on a scale of 1-10. It is good that the attempt is made to discover the issues, but the combination of the questions asked and the numerical scales and the general resistance of creative types to filling out forms, makes it less useful than one might wish.

I suggest instead that they consider doing some qualitative research that would allow us to learn in more detail about the aspirations of the staff members and their drivers for success. It should be conducted in the spirit of a “positive enquiry” that will emphasize discovery of the strengths and the opportunities. Tailored of course to the organization, questions might include: “What do you look forward to every day when you come into the office?” ”What project that you did at the firm was most professionally satisfying and why?” “What opportunities do you see for yourself at the company?”

I recommend that these kinds of questions are posed by an outside investigator rather than someone from management or HR. The independent researcher usually gets franker responses than does someone from inside. When the findings have been carefully analyzed and the right insights obtained, this is likely to be a more productive survey than the quant – and in the right hands lead to constructive action steps.

And it can be a refreshing change from the familiar list of general gripes with no constructive way forward indicated.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Q+A: Types of resumes

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: I have heard about different types of resumes, but know nothing about them. What are the different types and what are the pros and cons of each?

Those who like to categorize things seem to divide resumes into three types: chronological, functional and targeted.

The chronological resume presents your work history in yes you guessed it chronological order. Hopefully this shows a steady progress of gaining knowledge responsibility and experience, but emphasis on the timeline can often obscure your skills.

The functional resume focuses on your skills, the things that you do well and allows you to sidestep the chronology, if it' s not a strong suit.

The targeted resume is crafted to best position you for a particular position. In this case you present (dare I say “spin”) your experience to the best advantage for that gig.

Probably the first thing the hirer will look for is: what are your skills. If that looks good, then they will want to see that your experience is relevant to them. There is very little desire to train in this market a new hire that can hit the ground running is the ideal. Hence functional could be indicated.

They will want to see that your career has been moving in a positive direction - they don' t want to bring you in if you are on a downward path. Hence chronological could be the choice.

Your resume needs to present the most persuasive and complete picture to the target you are sending it to. It has no value unless it speaks to the receiver' s needs. So in order for it to be effective you need to show some understanding of your reader and what she is looking for. Hence targeted.

In almost all cases you will want to create a hybrid of the various types. But know that you have the freedom to use components of each in the appropriate balance to make your strongest case. What counts is the effect it has, not the category it falls into.

Q+A: Relocating from Paris to LA?

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: I'm currently based in Paris, and I’m looking to relocate in Los Angeles and find a job in the media industry. I'm currently a producer/writer in an animation company. I have an agent that represents me in Los Angeles, I travel every 3 months for a week to meet with people and focus on my networking, I keep in touch via email...

I've been doing that for almost 2 years now, and still I haven't found any job. Any advice on what I could/should do to land the job I want?

A: Grill your agent. Talk to him every few days. Learn from what he sees as the opportunities for you. Find out why nothing has happened. Ask him if you are being presented appropriately and does he have the materials he needs. Do your own research on the companies that are interesting to you. Ask the agent to get you meetings. Then if that gets you nowhere, maybe you need to ask yourself whether this is the right agent for your needs.

But here is what I really think. If you are passionate about moving to the media industry in LA: then move to LA. As long as you are not there people will take you less seriously.

If you need the income, consider taking any job that will enable you to live and breathe the LA industry just to get your boots on the ground. It is a big deal for an employer to be responsible for someone relocating, it is a headache to deal with the immigration issues and they run the risk that you may not stay. It adds a level of commitment that they do not want to take unless you are a truly unique and valuable talent that they cannot find in their own market.

So I would find a way to move there and be a part of their world. People will respect that you have made the commitment to LA and it will remove the barrier of them having to feel responsible for you crossing half the world to take their job.