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12 Job Hunting Tips
I’ve have had more job searches and been to more interviews than I am prepared to admit. I have had lots of advice and received plenty of scars on the way through, so here come my 12 top job hunting tips if you need them at any point. If you have any feedback, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tip 1 – Know yourself
You’ve decided. You need to get on with that job search. Either, it’s something you know you should have started a while ago, or it’s something you’ve been forced into. Either way, now’s the time to get going. So, where to begin? Where better than with yourself?
Such is the nature of the modern workplace that we rarely take a moment to step back and think about who we are and what we really want. On one level it can be considered a pretty self-indulgent thing to do; but on another it is a pretty crucial thing to get to grips with before you expose yourself to the bear pit that is the job hunting world.
There are a whole range of ways to go about it: take a personality test (boy are there are hundreds, but many are free); talk to colleagues and friends who know you well; get some professional coaching (I would say that wouldn’t I?) or simply, take some time for yourself and reflect. Look at what you like to do, look at who and which activities you are naturally drawn to. Try to work out if you have a clear purpose and what values naturally support and enable your attainment of that purpose.
Case study: One of my old bosses had his pet interview question: “What do you stand for?” When they heard this, many of my colleagues thought he was being really pretentious. But stop, and think about it for a moment. Firstly, it’s a great open question. Unstructured and it forces (or enables, depending on your point of view) the interviewee to guide the conversation.
Secondly, it gives a real insight into both the maturity and thoughtfulness of the respondent. Have they actually ever stopped to think where they are going and what their goals are? Do they value the art of self-reflection; have they considered their options; have they ever questioned how they impact those around them and what is important to them? And how does the interviewee sum themselves up? What’s their brand, what is important to them, what will their employer and fellow employees experience when working with them? What are their values and what will their lasting impact be?
On one level, really philosophical and abstract stuff. But on another level, it’s really important for you to understand and be able to articulate what your fundamental drivers are and the impact you will have over time.
Fear not, if you are anything like me, you may never bottom out exactly who you are and what your purpose truly is. But the closer you get the more equipped you will be in identifying what you want and the role to look for. You might experience some positive side effects too. Making difficult decisions can become much easier if you have a greater sense of who you are and your priorities. You can start to develop a really useful compass that defines who you are, the route you should go and what decisions you might make.
Not a bad pay-off for just stopping for a moment and reflecting.
Tip 2 – Know the job you want
How many of us have had our heart sink turning up for our first day at a new job as we realise we are in the wrong place. I envy those I have met on the way through for whom every day is a pleasure and work truly inspires them.
Whilst we are all under pressure to work, earn and develop our careers, all the research shows that the more we enjoy our work and the more engaged in it we are, the more the productive we will be. As a consequence, time invested in working out and understanding what we really want from our working lives is critical.
For sure, many of us will never be truly inspired by our work and will spend much of their careers just enduring it. However, the more we want to do it and enjoy it the more effective we will be. So, the best chance we have of finding the ideal job is putting our energy into identifying what that job might look like. At least in that way, even if you never find the perfect role, you have something to measure each opportunity with. Whilst you might work out how far from ideal the opportunity is, it might be closer to that ideal than the role you currently are doing.
Case study: One of the best pieces of career advice I ever got is to work out where you want to get to and then work back from there. In doing so, you will begin to plot a path of the different skills and experience you will need to get there. There are two main advantages in doing this. Firstly, you will have more direction as you move from role to role (be that internally or externally) to pick up the skills and experience you need to achieve the end goal. Secondly, you can give yourself permission for that next role to not to be perfect. If it aligns with your end game fantastic; you can give yourself permission to accept imperfection in the short term as is part of what is needed to meet the overall end.
So how do you end up with the job you really want? Start by asking yourself, then ask others around you. There are all sorts of self-help books to support you in working this out. However for me, money aside, it’s always been a combination of four ingredients:
- What are the tasks you are doing on a day to day basis?
- How do these align with the skills you have and, in combination, are you able to do and enjoy your role?
- How much autonomy do you have relative to the experience you have and the autonomy you want?
- Do you enjoy working with the people you are working with and have a similar set of values to them and the organisation as a whole?
Get the above worked out and then you can focus your energy on identifying and getting the job you really want. When you get to interview, you will be better equipped and energised; you will have a much stronger narrative and rational for the role. Similarly, when you are there you will have much more to say in the interview and be more likely to present the best version of yourself.
The corollary is also true. Be honest with yourself when you don’t want the job. Don’t apply for it, or pull out of the process as soon as you realise it’s wrong. If it’s not you then, at some point, no matter how much energy you spent trying to prove to yourself and others to the contrary, it will be time to move on again.
Tip 3 – The power of your network
Most job seekers’ instincts involve going straight to headhunters and recruiters for that next job. Yes, use recruiters but use them wisely. Whilst they are, by their nature, well connected and know which businesses are recruiting, they are always employer centric, and more likely to make quick judgements about you, your capability and suitability for a particular role.
I’m convinced your network is your best and most likely source of your next job. Members of your network have two things over recruiters – firstly, they are always on your side, cheering you on and, in most cases, delighted when you succeed and warmed by feeling part of your success. Secondly, your network sums up as a massive, bespoke, multi-node algorithm pulling for you, each member trying hard to identify one or two introductions that are increasingly more relevant for you.
Case study – Somebody once said to me, you will be surprised who does and doesn’t help you in a job search. And they were right. I’ve found both in looking for new jobs or setting up my own business. Often help comes from the most unusual places. Some people you know well and you think will be helpful are either unable or not inclined to be there for you. Others, much further out in your network can surprise you by offering that spark of inspiration or useful introduction. So, don’t be shy and mine that network; the more you dig the more gold you will find.
Most people are willing to help, particularly knowing that it might be their turn soon. Even if you haven’t spoken to someone for 2-3 years they are usually more than delighted to be contacted. They want to network just as much as you do and also know that your success means a more successful and empowered network for them.
Tip 4 – Practice, practice, practice
An old colleague of mine once said to me, life is once long interview. If that’s the case then we should always be prepared. There is no point waiting for that ideal job to come up and then to go into the interview cold and make a mess of it. Practice along the way every day.
Why not treat each networking conversation as an interview? Treat each conversation as a trial run in all sorts of ways – your brand, why you left your previous role, what you are looking for, what you stand for and articulating the impact you can have. Try specific phrases, ideas and learn to listen and listen hard.
Case study – One of my oldest friends has always encouraged me to just “go and have a chat”. This approach has multiple advantages; of course it’s a great networking opportunity, but also, as we all love to give advice, you’ll get some good ideas on the way through and nearly always for free! It also has the advantage of putting yourself in an interview situation before your interview. Listen to other perspectives and learn what’s going on out there. Try things; different ways of talking about yourself and your ambition to test and learn different approaches.
Obviously, you can also try to have formal mock interviews with friends and even professionals. It just doesn’t matter how you get to done, just be ready to talk about you and what you want in the way you want without surprises. Hopefully the only surprises will be pleasant.
Tip 5: Be up to date
If, like me, you work from the premise that performance in an interview is indicative of how you might operate if you got the role, be prepared to do just that at the interview. Start to operate like someone already in the business. Gen up on the industry, know what the hot topics are and understand the latest performance of the business you are talking to.
More than anything, try to know as much as possible about the people you are meeting. Check them out on LinkedIn; find some connections; find some common ground. I still blow hot and cold in this area: I look silly when it’s obvious I haven’t done my research; I look much better when I open with common career observations with the person I am meeting.
Case study: Movements in share prices can really impact a conversation. I vividly remember making a sales pitch to a US tech giant the morning after their share price had taken an overnight battering. We didn’t know this because we hadn’t done our homework. The paper value of some of the potential clients in the room had literally fallen by hundreds of thousands of dollars overnight. It was top of mind of everyone in the room except us, and we were not prepared or able to contribute to the conversation. Not a great start.
So, what’s the lesson? Make sure you do your homework and, in particular, check the news that morning for relevant information. You need to be equipped to show you are as interested in their business as much as they are.
Tip 6 – First impressions really do count
When I interview, one of the key questions I try to answer is, will the interviewee really fit in here? There are many different indicators as to whether or not this will be the case, but if you really like the opportunity you can make it clear that you are the right person from the outset.
Firstly, understand the interview process and play to their rules. Then, do your research and come prepared on the day. Work out what the dress code is and fit in (if you don’t feel comfortable with the dress code maybe it’s not the right place for you). Know the industry and they business, and check them out that morning in case they are in the news.
And then be present all the way through. Be confident with and polite to the receptionist, look for clues and talking points in the reception and have eye contact with everyone. Be part of the business from the start whilst always being yourself.
Case study: I really enjoy presenting to schools and students at career events. Pre-Covid, my warm up was always to teach the group to start and end any interview with a quality hand shake. Look the person you are meeting in the eye, get a good interlocking grip with their hand and then press firmly (not too hard; not too soft) confidently saying, “really pleased to meet you”. Same at the end of the meeting, except now you say with confidence, “thank you for your time”. Maybe one day hand shaking will become the norm again.
But of course remember they need to make a good impression on you too. If the interview process is a shambles, or their culture and behaviours don’t resonate with you be sure to take this on board. They need to demonstrate that they care about you just as much as you need to show you care about them. If that isn’t the case then maybe you are not meant to be with each other …
Tip 7 – Listen, actively
I believe the art of listening is massively underrated. Too often we are so eager to talk, to share our opinions and win the argument that we fail to listen and learn from those around us.
Never is listening more important than at an interview. Of course we need to do our share of talking so they know who we are, but I’d always encourage the interviewer to talk early on. Why? Because it shows you are interested in them and their business, and demonstrates modesty and empathy. In some ways, more importantly, you are being given some great intelligence on the latest status of their business which you can adapt your answers and your narrative to. You can also use what you hear to demonstrate how interested you are in them, the role and, of course, to ask great questions
Case study: The harder you listen, the more you learn and the more clues you will get about your potential employer. I’ve always been surprised at how little I’ve known about a prospective employer and what their business is really like. A good friend of mine is a fantastic listener. She proudly tells me about the clues she was able to pick up from one interviewer about the financial position of a business she was keen to join. Some question marks arose which made her dig deeper into the business and she decided not to take the role. Within a year the business was in administration.
To listen well, always be attentive and in the room. Always be curious by asking strong follow up questions. Observe how your interviewer responds; their discomfort may give you a clue that you really do need to dig deeper. Don’t be afraid to to reflect back what they have been saying to clarify your understanding. Great listening drives great questions which leads to a deeper understanding. Don’t be shy and miss the opportunity.
Listen hard and learn well.
Tip 8 – Guide the conversation to your safe places
The best interviews I have been involved in, be that as interviewee or interviewer are those that flow as normal conversations. The less stilted and structured an interview is, I would say, the more successful it will probably be. The more likely it is that the real, relaxed you comes through.
In such circumstances, this will offer the opportunity for you to start to guide the conversation. Indeed the more senior you are and the role you are being considered for, the more likely it is that this will be expected of you. Here’s the opportunity for you to take the conversation to safe spaces where you will be strong and have plenty to talk about. So, prepare these zones beforehand and refer to them in your cv; additionally your research on the company should identify relevant spaces that your interviewer might like to go and take them there. Be subtle, but play to your strengths.
Case study – some of the coaching work I do involves interview preparation. Often my client will be spending much time and energy sweating the questions that they might be asked and what hypothetical answers to these hypothetical questions might be. I always encourage this to be turned on its head. Either guide the conversation to where you want it to go (try dropping in phrases or comments to enable this), or ask questions en route to safe places. Remember most employers are looking for agile thinkers and leaders; demonstrate this from the off in your interview.
So, as best you can, be relaxed and treat the interview as a normal conversation. All the prep work you will have done in speaking to a wide range of people beforehand will leave you well prepared for the new conversation. Focus on the areas where you are strong and show yourself in your best light, and if that type of light is not right for them then that’s good to know; because the chances are the job is not right for you.
Tip 9 – Be prepared for open questions
“Tell me about yourself.” It’s the inevitable, killer opening question. But it’s going to come, so be prepared for it. And in many ways it’s a great opportunity to share enough of who you are and to find out, by their reaction to your response, if who you are will really fit into their business.
I would suggest you anticipate this question and are prepared for an answer which flows naturally and ends up justifying why you are perfect for the role. Maybe start with your purpose and what motivates you (could be your family or some other driver in your life), bring in examples of skills and achievements that both have a coherence and stand up as evidence supporting their decision to employ you.
So have a structure or a clear narrative that logically links the essence of you to the job. And try it. And try it again.
Case study – How personal should I be. in an interview? The answer to this one is, not surprisingly, personal! I would start with asking yourself, how much of myself am I comfortable in bringing to work if I did get the job? With this in mind, consider if you do want to talk about your family, your hobbies etc. If you do, make them relevant to the role and talk about them in terms of them enabling you to be a success in the workplace. If you are more private, stick to work related topics. Either way, just make sure the real you comes through.
An open question can be a friend and a foe. They are used as a device to see how interviewees deal with unstructured questions and to see if they talk themselves into dead ends or around in circles. With a little preparation, you will want to be asked them as you can direct the conversation more and give yourself the best chance of success.
Tip 10 – Demonstrate the right skills and behaviours at every stage of the interview process
Use the whole interview process to demonstrate all your skills. It’s the best chance for your potential employer to have a real sense of what it will be like to have you in their business. Start with the recruiter, particularly if the role is being managed through an in-house recruitment team. Be polite and professional when you arrange appointments; if you commit to do or provide something, do what you promise.
In particular, be on it from the moment you are on the premises. And that’s with the security guard, the receptionist, the executive assistant; not just with the person interviewing you. Businesses talk.
When it is time to sort out your package negotiate, but negotiate hard but fair. Negotiate as if you were doing a deal for them. So, be well informed, understand the context and the personalities; know what is important to them and how your role will fit into their overall strategy and, in particular, their priorities. Show them what you can do – if you’re a salesman, sell yourself: if you’re a negotiator, negotiate elegantly. Make them want to do business with you.
Case study – I was once involved in recruiting a sales leader who was moving from a contract role to a permanent one in our business. As you would expect from a senior sales leader, she negotiated hard; but she was effective and used a fantastic narrative the whole way through. She had also done her research – she knew what she was worth in the market and had enough depth of knowledge about our business that she could make her demands consistent and logical in the context of our plans. In effect, we felt what it would be like to have her on the other side of a negotiation with us. And we liked it; we liked her style, approach and strength. So, not only did she get the job but she got a great deal too.
And remember, your behaviours and soft skills are key. Show them you have the right set of values and behaviours that will sit well with their business. Indeed, so little of the process will be within your control other than the way you behave. Never give a hint of desperation; be calm and content to proceed at their pace. Do the right thing, and you have a better chance of that role or building a relationship that might lead to another role in the future. Behave poorly, and you have little chance of either.
Finally, if you want the job, commit quickly when the time is right. Ask for updates, news and intelligence before you join. Be part of the team before you even join the team.
Tip 11 – Follow up; interviewing is the best networking opportunity
I have an ex-colleague who keeps an eagle eye on job boards and takes the view that he always needs to know what he is worth. For me that is an extreme approach; I take the view that a job search is a job in itself. It can also be quite a distraction from the role you are currently in as well as being a sign to yourself that you are not committed to your current role.
Having said that, interviewing is a phenomenal networking opportunity. At its best you get the opportunity to talk to senior executives in businesses you would never otherwise get to. As a minimum, it’s a neat way of finding out what your competitors are up to, of keeping up-to-date with trends in your marketplace as well helping you understand what you are really worth.
Also, really importantly, getting out there enables you to practice your interview skills for the role you really want. If your’re not sure about the role, you can take more risks and try different things out. You can also negotiate harder if you are not so sure you want to make the move.
Case study – an old colleague of mine was always searching for that perfect role, and so always job hunting. I was amazed he was able to avoid distracting himself from his day job with all the interviewing he did. In the process his network grew and one day he had a massive pay off. A business where he had interviewed came back to him for a much more senior role and his career leapt forward. An extreme case may be, but he always behaved consistently well and knew everyone in our industry. Interesting approach, but fair play.
Most importantly, follow up after the interview. Even if the role was not for you or you were not for them part with a thank you and a bit of class. You never know where you might cross paths with that business again. Their preferred candidate may change their mind or a new role might crop up. You might end up in a company that gets bought by that company. Just don’t burn your bridges and use the experience as gaining more knowledge and a wider network.
Tip 12 – Rest up, then hit the ground running
So, you get the job you want – fantastic! You’ve negotiated an improved package compared to your previous job, but not too good so that you are under pressure from day one. Great news. But what next?
Have a break.
Seriously, take time out. Its’s golden time and high quality because you have nothing to worry about from your last job, but don’t know what there is to worry about in your new role. And if your new employer is grumpy about you taking a break maybe that should set some alarm bells off for you. Yes, it’s great that they are keen for you to start you must be the best version of yourself from day one.
Case study – A former colleague had a reputation as a massive workaholic. He landed a fantastic new job which, in effect, was a double promotion. It was a great move and, potentially, a transformative moment in his career. A combination of him being eager to please and easily flattered meant his was happy take on his new employer’s enthusiasm for him to start immediately. No break, no decompression, no time to reflect and recharge. He sprinted into the new role at full speed and within the first year had crashed and burned. You are your own biggest asset; a bigger asset over your lifetime than any single job. Treat yourself well for yourself and those you love around you, particularly when it comes to preparing for starting that new golden role.
So how do you hit the ground running? I think there four things everyone should do when they start a new job, or even move to a new role in the same organisation:
- Get a list of the key people you must meet before you join, and get meetings in the diary to meet them when you start.
- Know what your objectives are. Yes you will have a job description but what does your new employer think success looks like for you? Get it clear.
- Know who the key people are in your new organisation, make your own stakeholder map and get to those you need to as soon as you can. By the way, don’t take your new boss’s word for who you need to know; confirm it for yourself
Have a plan. It may just be for you; it may just be a commitment to create a plan for your boss in 30 days. Whatever it is, having a plan is great psychology for you to encourage you to make the impactful start you need.