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 (www.pollockspark.com). 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 (www.pollockspark.com ). 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 ( www.pollockspark.com ). 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.