Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Being Interviewed For Your Own Job

Many of my clients view being interviewed for an internal post as more stressful than going for a job elsewhere.  Here are 7 tips on how to handle this potentially tricky scenario.

1.  Play the game
The game is evidence-based interviewing, and it's used by most large public sector organisations.  When you are being interviewed for your own job, it means that you have to give concrete evidence of your skills and achievements when answering the interviewers' questions.  This can feel slightly bizarre - your manager is sitting on the panel, and surely s/he knows what you've been up to?   Yes, s/he does, but many organisations regard it as best practice to base their decision purely on evidence that emerges during the interview, not on any prior knowledge of the candidate or their reputation.  Don't put your manager in the awkward position where s/he has to say to the other panel members: "I know that this person can do a good job, even though she didn't give us the evidence during the interview.  Can't we just offer it to her anyway?"

2.  Blow that trumpet!
It's relatively easy to tell a stranger across an interview table how wonderful we are, and how we've been a key player in delivering some significant results over the past year.  In interviews most of us tend to present ourselves in the best possible light and put a positive spin on our performance.  But for some candidates the pendulum swings the other way when they are facing a panel that includes their manager: they start to feel like a fraud when they talk about their strengths and achievements.

Although your boss has a pretty good idea what your contribution has been to the team's successes, is aware of your weaknesses and knows how you react under pressure, don't let that prevent you from talking about your successes.  

3. Particular pitfalls

Pitfall 1: You want to draw on specific examples to illustrate your achievements and strengths but end up getting in a pickle over how much background information the panel need - each of the interviewers has a different level of knowledge about your job.

Pitfall 2: You inadvertently sound critical of your colleagues, or another department, when describing some of the obstacles that you've successfully overcome when taking a project forward.

These two potential pitfalls can make an internal interview trickier than one outside your own organisation.  So, when choosing examples of your work that you want to talk about during the interview, write out your account, play around with it until you're happy, then rehearse what you want to say. 

4.  Wow them with a new idea
Enthusiasm, creativity and a willingness to think beyond the job description are often what separate the successful candidate from the, sometimes more experienced, runner-up.  I remember one NHS medical director recounting how he had appointed a newly qualified consultant in preference to other, better qualified, candidates because she was full of ideas and passion for the role. So, have a think about a new suggestion or idea that you could introduce during the interview - it will show that you still have enthusiasm for the job and that you're not jaded.
5.  Tell them what was on your mind
One way in which you can bring something fresh to an internal interview is to describe the 'head work' that you you undertook when you were tackling a particular task or leading on a project.  By that I mean, talk through the factors that you were mentally taking into account, and the rationale for the judgements you made.  It's akin to good exam technique when you 'show your working' - you get credit for your insights and the quality of your thinking.

6. Have a look at your organisation's strategic documents 
At least one public sector body is currently asking internal candidates - at all levels - about their ideas on how the organisation's business objectives can be achieved.  So take the time to read:
  • the organisation's business plan
  • your department's service development plan
Look for ways of demonstrating during the interview that you've made the link between your role and the organisation's strategic objectives.

7.  Show some respect
Finally, if you are applying for your own job, and you are the only candidate, it can be tempting to regard the outcome as a formality.  My advice is to treat the interview as you would any other: for example, wear your normal interview suit and avoid being over-familiar or flippant.  In short, show that you are taking the process seriously.

For more tips on how to perform confidently and effectively in interviews, see my book Succeeding At Interviews, available from Amazon.co.uk. 

Coming Soon ......
- How to Refresh a Tired CV 

Monday, 1 November 2010

Confident Networking

Some people seem to do it effortlessly, others stand on the edge of the room looking anxious and scurry away after 15 minutes.  Most of us are somewhere in between, but what's the secret to being a confident networker? 

1.  Decide on your goal
This means being clear about what you want to gain from networking.  Who do you want to talk to, and what you want from the interaction?
  • Do you want to simply make a particular person aware that you exist?
  • Let them know about your expertise in a specific subject area?
  • Tell them that you are looking to develop your career and are interested in finding out more about their organisation? 
2.  Believe in yourself
Making a positive impression requires a modicum of self-belief.  If you are networking to further your career prospects, you need to be clear that you have something to offer an employer.  Having a clear idea of your own value will help you feel OK about promoting yourself to others - you are networking for mutual gain.

3.  Recognise your personality type
If you are naturally introverted, you might find it helpful to make a commitment to yourself in terms of how long you'll stay at an event, and how many people you will talk to.  If you are more of an extravert, you might find yourself happily chatting to lots of people - your challenge is to keep your networking focused on achieving your goal. 

Events can be more fun, and networking less daunting, if you go with a friend.  However, you may need to agree in advance that you won't spend the whole time talking to each other - you still need to make the effort to mingle.
4.  Decide what you want to say about yourself
It really helps if you can sum up your 'message' in a couple of sentences.  For example, "I have worked in management accounting for six years.  I've learned a lot about cost reduction programmes and I'm aiming to apply what I've learned in a new environment".  Alternatively, there might be a particular question that you want to ask, eg, "I wondered if I might spend an afternoon shadowing someone in your department?"

5.  But don't rush it! 
There is a danger when we are goal-focused, and anxious, that we blurt out our question or message too early in the conversation, so that it feels forced.  This can create an awkward atmosphere, so have a few topics of small-talk prepared.

6.  Pay attention to creating rapport
This is a skill that is important in many contexts (the golden rule of influencing is 'Establish Rapport Before You Try To Persuade').  Rapport means: 
  • being interested in the other person, and genuinely listening to what they are saying.  Remember their name, but avoid the cringe-inducing trick of repeating it in every other sentence.
  • noticing their overall level of animation, and matching it.  If they are enthusiastic, allow yourself to share their enthusiasm.  Ask yourself if you are a 'low reactor' - someone who tends to be less responsive in their interactions with others.  Without meaning to, low reactors can often present a rather stony impression to people who don't know them well. 
  • being sensitive to the other person's state - don't, for example, ask them a question if they have a mouthful of food, or insist on carrying on the conversation if they are clearly eager to go and talk to someone else.
By the way, it's good to shake hands - it establishes human contact, and shows confidence.   

7. Know when to move on
If you are new to networking, and a bit nervous, there is a danger that you will seize upon the first person who talks to you at an event, and cling to them like a drowning person to a lifebuoy. When the conversation seems to be losing momentum, there are several ways to take your leave. You can wait for someone else to join the interaction, then after a few moments murmur "excuse me", and move on. Alternatively, you can say "I've enjoyed talking to you", then go to collect a drink, nip to the loo or pop outside to make a phone call.

8. Offer your business card
Sometimes a natural opportunity to give the other person your card arises during the conversation.  If not, you can always say "I've enjoyed talking to you.  Would you mind if I gave you my card?" as you take your leave.

9. Keep in touch
If you have made contact with someone that you want to keep in touch with, send them a short follow-up email within the next day or so.  This can simply be to say that you enjoyed meeting them, or it could include a reference to a website or article that they will find interesting.  Look for ways to give to people - top class networkers are generous.
10. Remember, 'Practice Makes Polished'
Like any other skill, networking can take time to develop.  Develop your ability, and confidence, in small steps by attending events simply to practise your approach.  It's a bit like going for a job interview: you don't want your first attempt to be in a situation where you are really keen to make a good impression.

Coming Soon ......
- How to Refresh a Tired CV 
- Facing Your Boss Across The Interview Table: how to apply successfully for your own job.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

How To Raise Your Profile

During times of organisational change, the people who prosper are often those who have paid attention to managing their profile and image. 

What’s The Difference Between Profile and Image?
Your image is the impression you make on people who do not know you well.  Your profile is about how well known you are – and in what circles.

You can have a great image but a lousy profile (eg, everyone who meets you thinks you’re brilliant but hardly anyone does get to meet you because you’re hidden away in your office all the time).  Equally, you can be high profile but have a poor image (everyone knows you, mainly because you’re a notorious plonker).

The Ethics of Networking for Career Advancement
Using networking for career advancement is sometimes seen as trying to gain an unfair advantage, particularly in organisations which pride themselves on having scrupulously fair selection processes.  However, there are at least three reasons why networking can be seen as a legitimate approach to career development:
  1. It's how human beings work. When it comes to selecting someone for a new role, there are sound evolutionary reasons why human beings prefer to choose a familiar face.
  2. For employers, it can be a more reliable way of spotting talent. If you’ve ever been on an interview panel and chosen the candidate who gave the best 'performance' only for them to turn out to be a big disappointment in the job, you’ll know why interviewers are often tempted to take their previous knowledge of a candidate into account.
  3. Lots of jobs don’t get advertised – there is usually at least one person on each of my courses who has secured a job via word of mouth.
If you are looking to change jobs, you can view yourself as a product that some people would love to buy - if only they knew it existed.  Networking is your marketing strategy.

You Don't Have To Sell Your Soul
Some people wince at the thought of networking – they picture themselves smarming their way round the building, using the right buzz words,  laughing slightly too loudly at the Chief Exec’s jokes and generally sucking up to anyone they perceive as being useful to them.

But networking doesn’t have to be like that.  It is possible to raise your profile in a way that feels comfortable and authentic.

10 Tips on Raising Your Profile
The trick is to look for make contact with more people, more often.  In particular, explore ways to be in touch with others who have similar (professional or personal) interests as you.  Ideally, you’ll find yourself in a room with individuals who share your passions, at which point networking becomes a lot easier and more natural.

1. Target particular people.  If there are a senior people who need to know that you exist, identify some fora in which you can make contact, for example:

  • Working parties, project groups or committees
  • Social events (eg, leaving do's)
  • Conferences
  • In-house presentations and briefings
  • Extra curricular activities.  A colleague regularly plays squash with one of the more senior managers in his organisation.  Times have changed - previously the smoking room was known as a good place to network.
2. Don't overuse email. If you want to communicate with someone in your building, go and see them.  This gives you the opportunity to say hello to people in the lift or corridor.  One manager found herself waiting for the lift with the Chairwoman of her organisation.  Somewhat impulsively she asked, “Could I come and see you for 20 minutes?”  They subsequently had a very helpful conversation about career development for women in their (predominantly male) organisation.

3. Write an article for an internal newsletter or professional publication.  Your organisation’s communication department usually welcome offers of material.  It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic: just an update on work in your area, or a good news story.  Make sure your name is included at the end of the article.

4. Make a presentation.  Delivering a competent presentation or teaching session can raise your profile and help you be perceived as a subject expert.  Many people are nervous about making presentations, and consequently will admire you if you can do it well.

5. Undertake a small research project.  This can be an excellent opportunity to ring up someone with whom you want to raise your profile and ask, "Could I spend 20 minutes asking you some questions as part of a research project that I’m undertaking?”

6. Get a mentor, and ask them to help you to raise your profile.  A good mentor will introduce you to people to whom you wouldn't otherwise have access.

7. Go along to local events organised by your professional body.

8. Shadow someone.  Shadowing is a recognised but under-used form of development which should be on your PDP if you are serious about raising your profile.  When I worked in the health service, I asked to spend a day with the HR Director for the whole of the English NHS.  He was very open to being shadowed; it was a fascinating experience and I established a contact that I would never have made if I hadn’t initiated the opportunity.

9. Attend meetings in place of your manager.

10. Put your name on your reports.  People whom you have never met will know about you via your written work. 

Next month - The Etiquette of Networking: 10 tips on how to avoid being seen as a schmoozer.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Are You Going To Get Promoted?

You may have heard it said that whether you succeed in advancing your career is:
10% about being good at your current job
30% to do with your image
60% reliant on your profile
So let's assume that you are good at your current job, and you want go further. Or you want to position yourself so that you do well out of the next organisational restructuring. How do you make sure that you have the right image?

What Constitutes Image At Work?
Your image is the impression you create on people, in a myriad of ways, when they encounter you. Some of these people might see you on a daily basis - your boss might be one example. Other people who could enhance your career might meet you only once.

The right image doesn't mean pretending to be something you're not. It's making sure that your appearance, your manner and your overall approach to work are professional and reflect your underlying ability. The problem with some people is that their image undermines them, and gives a misleading impression.

Here are three characters who had different types of image problems.

Amy was really good at her job. She was bright, committed and had a track record of delivering results. But Amy had a problem, as her boss explained…

“The trouble with you, Amy, is that you don’t inspire confidence. When people see you walking down the corridor they wonder if you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown. You look so worried all the time.”
 Her manager continued......

“The thing is, I know that you are reliable and could do a good job at the next level, but no one else would believe it.”
Amy’s boss had identified something that causes problems for lots of diligent, reliable, people – they leak anxiety.

A good image to portray, if you want to get promoted, is of being a Safe Pair of Hands. The people who will decide whether or not to promote you won’t want to hold your hand while you develop confidence in your new role. They especially won’t want to have sleepless nights worrying about whether you are coping with the pressure of a more senior post. 

For Amy, cultivating the Safe Pair of Hands image meant:

1. Doing whatever it took to get the job done. This often meant going the extra mile by working late.

2. Demonstrating grace under pressure. Underneath the surface there were times when she was feeling the strain and paddling furiously to keep afloat. But she no longer let it show – to outsiders she appeared composed and in control.

3. Adopting a 'Can Do' attitude.  Saying “Yes, I can do that. No problem”, when she was thinking “Yikes! How?”

Tony was a technical specialist who liked to stay well within the boundaries of his role and expertise. He was a very capable guy, though - a few years back he had invented a new way of undertaking a process that had saved his company hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Tony noticed that some of his colleagues seemed to be progressing up the career ladder while he was getting left behind. He decided to do something about it, and applied his analytical ability to the task of getting himself promoted.

The first thing that Tony realised was that the process innovation he had devised a few years ago was now a distant memory in his manager's mind. However, his unshaven face, jeans, lengthy lunches and habit of leaving work at 4 pm was making a daily impact on her brain. Tony had heard the phrase 'dress for the next job up', and he decided to take that principle and apply it more widely in an attempt to improve his image .

For Tony, appearing ready for 'the next job up' meant:

1. Accepting that image matters. Some of his friends argued that it shouldn’t be an issue but Tony recognised that most of us, whether we’re looking at a doctor or an electrician, tend to make (sometimes unconscious) judgements based on appearances.

2. Taking an honest look at his appearance, and realising that no one would mistake him for someone working in a more senior post. To his relief, Tony realised that dressing for the next job up didn’t necessarily mean wearing a suit – he would look the part by wearing smart trousers and shirts, like his organisation’s more senior managers.

3. Sorting out his workspace. One of his colleagues remarked that it looked like a teenager’s bedroom. “But I know where everything is”, protested Tony. “Maybe, but it doesn’t exactly fit with this new image of yours”, replied his colleague.

Your desk is part of your image – does it give the impression that you are in control of things?

Eddie was the team's joker. He had a quick, sarcastic wit and was great fun down the pub. Eddie's problem was that he didn't know when to stop - meetings would be punctuated with little quips and the exchange of banter with his colleagues. Having a laugh at work is important to most of us, but it had become too big a part of Eddie's identity. Eddie was a likeable and capable guy, but his seniors saw his flippancy as the sign that he was a lightweight. He needed to be taken seriously.

Having the right image doesn't mean you can't crack a joke, but it does mean knowing what tone to adopt in any situation.

For Eddie, being taken seriously meant:

1. Telling his manager that he wanted to be promoted, and having a frank conversation about what he needed to do to make that happen.

2. A teach-yourself-corporate-culture period during which he observed how the movers and shakers in his organisation behaved. Eddie realised that influential managers knew when to let their hair down, but they also knew when to behave in an impeccably professional manner. Eddie resolved to take more conscious control over his sense of humour.

3. Becoming know as an Improver. Previously, Eddie’s image had been that of a Maintainer – he was good at keeping things ticking over. Eddie realised that the individuals who moved up the ladder in his organisation were people who had developed a reputation for improving systems, processes and services.

Next month – how to raise your profile so the right people know about you.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Is This Relationship Going To Work?

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, working with people who aren’t our natural soulmates. Whether the relationship is Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, or two colleagues sharing an office, conflict is probably going to arise at some point.

Messrs Clegg and Cameron are both assertive and persuasive individuals who are used to winning the argument. But if they are going to work successfully together they will need to use a range of styles to manage potential conflict between themselves and their party members.

Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann describe five approaches we can take to handling any particular conflict:

Compete – we aim to win.

Accommodate - our priority is to keep the other person happy.

Compromise – we do a deal. It’s not perfect but we can both live with it. At least in the short term.

Avoid – we take the view that it’s better not to open the can of worms, so we don’t address the issue.

Collaborate – we look for a solution that fully meets our needs, and also satisfies other person. A true ‘win/win’.

Which One To Use?

Looking at these five styles, you would think that the ‘right’ approach to conflict would always be to collaborate. However, there are a couple of problems with collaboration:

• It can take a long time – you have to sit down, explore the other person’s position, analyse the underlying needs and concerns then try to thrash out a resolution. It’s great when you have the time (and the energy) to do this. But sometimes there’s a deadline. Sometimes the markets are showing signs of impatience.

• It isn’t always possible. For example, when you and your colleague have fundamentally opposing views or values.

The trick is actually knowing which type of approach is most appropriate in any situation, and consciously adapting your natural preference for one of the five styles.

When To Use Each Style

When you are determined to get your needs met, or the issue is something that you aren’t prepared to compromise on, and you are not concerned about maintaining the relationship.

In situations where the relationship takes priority. For example if your partnership is looking fragile, you might decide to postpone getting your needs met in order to placate the other person.

When time is short and you need to agree a practical resolution that you can both live with.

When the costs of discussing the topic outweigh any likely benefits. There are some issues which might not be open to resolution, and even discussing them can create bad feelings on both sides.

When you will be having an ongoing relationship with other person. You will be working closely together and it is important that both of you get your needs met.

One of the secrets of handling conflict successfully, whether it’s in a shared office or the House of Commons, is choosing the right strategy.

For more on handling conflict, and coping with difficult conversations generally, take a look at the Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook.

You might also be interested in my courses on Negotiation Skills, Tackling Difficult Conversations or Influencing and High Impact Communication.

Reference: Conflict and conflict management: Reflections and update
Journal of Organizational Behavior; Vol. 13; 265-272; (1992).