Monday, November 23, 2009

Be an External Believer

The point of this blog is the importance of having an "external believer." It's the most important work I do with clients. Once you benefit from this believer, you have an obligation to be one for someone else.

In the film "Precious," one of the messages is the power of the "external believer," someone whose belief in you makes you willing to stretch for your possibilties. Its critics have struggled and generally failed to find the right posture about "Precious" because they have no frame of reference for a life so desperately lived. You'd think, though, they'd remember the hands that helped them find their way.

My dissertation was on how survivors of extreme trauma come through coping to resilience. Studies show: (a) traumatized children benefit from surrogate love from a positive adult model; (b) the effects of trauma are less if the child can recruit others' regard and attention; (c) the efforts to help a child overcome effects of abuse will not be successful unless he also works at it; and finally, (d) it is important not to let the individual stay a victim. He or she must do the work of recovery.

There. You've just attended the movie.

The genius of director Lee Daniels was that he so perfectly captured the despair of living in that environment. It recalled his early life. . .mine, too. My family was that poor and our life that ugly. I spent eight years in a children's home and am absolutely the product of people who believed in me. They were mostly the nuns in the orphanage and my high school. They saw and fostered my best qualities and threw open the windows of learning and a stable life to me. Sandwiched between my years at the home were also nuns in my small steel mill town who saw me through indifferent eyes. They were brutal and uncaring, doing their jobs without hope or light. I might have tipped over that razor's edge into poverty's darkness had they been my sole guides.

It was probably predictable that my life's passion would be to help others out of the holes that get punched into their lives, whether it's a career disaster or a struggle to find out "who I am, exactly." I am their "external believer." I see their possibilities with brilliant clarity and point them in that direction. I push and demand accountable action from them, but I know they can realize their dreams because their possibility path is usually so clear to me. There is no point, I believe, in squatting in today's mess.

Clients are grateful after they've done their work and found themselves in a new place, and when I shamelessly enroll them to help current strugglers, I tell them their obligation is to the universe to help someone else, not to me. After all, in working with them, I was really saying "thank you" to Sister Vita, Sister Englebert, Sister Miriam John, Sister Peter Fournier, Sister Alma, Sister Ann Dominic and Sister Isabel. It's a pretty big roster and I have a ways to go in living my gratitude to them.

Be an external believer of others. "Possibility" is the best gift you can give them.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Phone Interview: What It Means, How to Do It

You have an appointment for a telephone interview with a potential employer. What does that interview mean to the company? What are they looking for? What can you do to make the interview go great for YOU?

What It Means

Your interviewer could be the hiring manager, a young HR rep, an executive recruiter. The quality of the interview will vary widely. It could be a crisp 20-minute conversation, an unfocused 30 minutes, or an hour-long behavioral interview. They should tell you about time and type, but be sure to ask. Here's what the call for a pre-screen interview means:

1. You could be one of 5 or 25 they're telephoning. Depends on the job and the extent of the search.

2. You've made it past the first stack of resumes. You have the essential qualifications they'd arrayed in a grid. They have a few questions.

3. They want to see how you tell your story. Do you communicate well? How do you answer the questions they had about you? (an element of your experience; why you left a promising position; the depth of your technical/functional knowledge). Do they like what they hear about you (a subjective but important piece of information about you)?

4. The main question: Should we take you to the next level in our hiring process? For an executive or search position, that could be the in-depth behavioral interview, which is a phone interview with a scalpel. . .and you're the patient. For other positions, the "next level" is an in-person interview.

How to Do a Phone Interview Well

Your very best has to come across in these few minutes.

Note: If this is to be a Skype or video interview, some of the following won't apply. Pacing, for example, would be bad. You must prepare as if this were an in-person interview.

1. Be prepared. In general, you won't be given a chance to ask questions about the company or the job, but learn about the company anyway. It'll INFORM your responses.

2. Be prepared. Ask how long the interview will be.

3. Be prepared. Know your story. Imagine what they're looking for and how you should convey your possession of those qualities in those few minutes. The night before the interview, have someone "mock interview" you. Practice giving a chronology of your work experience (in 10 or 15 minutes). Answer the question you hope they don't ask. The role of the interviewer is ONLY to ask you those two things, and at its end to ask YOU how you felt you did. Most people don't know what interviewers are looking for and will give you bad advice. THE POINT OF THIS IS FOR YOU TO GET COMFORTABLE TELLING YOUR STORY. If they have SPHR behind their name (a professional HR designation) AND they've interviewed a zillion candidates, it might be okay to hear their counsel. Trust me, your mom won't know.

4. Be prepared. Set up a private interview space. You cannot be ON if children have access to you; if someone's playing Wi next to you; if "Dancing with the Stars" is competing for your attention. Stay away from your computer, too. It's a distraction (and I promise your distraction will be experienced by the interviewer, not in a good way). Go to your bedroom or basement. Have only things around you that make you feel great (you might have to make your bed). You are NOT to be disturbed unless aliens have landed and figured out your garage door code.

5. Be prepared. Your voice is your primary instrument here. Give it its best chance. A couple of hours before the interview, go for a run or brisk walk or workout, exercise that will get your heart pumping and lungs swelling. This energy will jump through the phone. Take a shower. Sing your favorite songs at the top of your lungs. You want to feel alive and fine. . .and to convey that.

6. Be prepared. Put on business casual clothes so you FEEL business-like. The subtle comes across 'way stronger than you might imagine.

7. Be prepared. Interview while standing, if you can. . .THAT energy also comes across. Or have a chair that requires you to sit up. Have eyes shut if it gets you more focused on the other. Pace, if that helps (but no stomping or heavy breathing!) Do whatever makes you feel THERE with the interviewer. When I do phone coaching with clients, I have to be seated at a desk with pen and paper at hand, and I take notes. They get my best attention that way. What works for you?

8. Be prepared. Respect the time given to you. You will NOT charm the interviewer if you go on and on. You could be cut off in the midst of your favorite story about yourself. Let the driver decide if s/he wants to stretch out the time.

9. Be prepared. At the end of the interview, ask what the next step is. Will they be contacting you? Should you check in with them? Thank the interviewer, by name, and express your appreciation for the opportunity.

10. Oh, and. . .be prepared. Your level of understanding and preparation will get you into that company's office faster than the next smart phone upgrade.

Good luck!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How Are Your Kids Creating Your Legend?

You are in adversity: You've lost your job or your business. . .or worse. You're living on the floor of your soul right now, and it's furnished with despair. You're afraid and depressed. Just getting out of bed is an ordeal; never mind putting on your peppy face to go get what's next for you. And let's not even talk about your flailing marriage to a spouse who's afraid, angry, resentful, punishing. . .all out of understanding.

You have been so busy with your demons that you've forgotten about the little eyes that are forever focused on you, pencils poised, always ready to work on your legend and its lessons. Twenty years from now your children will be living what you're teaching them today about how we deal when savage luck strikes us. They will recount the grandparental legend - yours - the anecdotes about you that will live past your time on the earth.

You may strike grand postures and pontificate, but your kids will work off of the behaviors they daily see in you, not those words. What material are you giving them? What story are you shaping for them to tell THEIR children?

"When hard times hit our family, Grandpa(ma). . .

". . .got up early every day to go for a long walk and pray for guidance,
then headed out the door with a determined step and a smile."

". . .had a dream but only ever talked about it. What's the use of dreaming?"

". . .Never stop trying, child. That's what your granddad always did. He
never gave up."

". . .stayed in the basement and never came out. It's when our family started to fall apart. She was never the same; neither were we."

". . .took any job he could get. It was a terrible year, but we made it. That's when I learned how much he loved us."

Isn't that how you learned the most about character. . .the way your parents lived THEIR lives? What story legacy do you want to leave about this time of struggle? What words do you hope the budding authors are choosing? Determination, courage, persistence, hope. How are you putting them into action today?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fit - Do You Have It?

"Fit" is the main reason you get the job or you don't. "Qualifications" is the first half of the hiring equation, but everyone who walks into an interview has those; it's how they got past the initial screen. "Fit" is the second and, I could argue, the most important. You feel at home when you walk in the door. The hiring manager would love to take you out for a beer with the rest of the team. You love what the company is about, and can't wait to get at the projects you would have. You can do the technical as well as the elusive but critical social aspects of the job. You are a fit.

You can get hired if you're not a fit: you're a wickedly shy analyst who flubs presentations but your assessments are brilliant; you're a rogue marketer who never follows the rules but you bring in millions; you're a pediatric neurologist who abuses OR nurses but are a genius at saving lives. You can work there; you may, however, be lonely or loathed. It's the unbeatable superiority of your qualification that keeps you there. It's a fragile existence.

Diversity can be a naive drum beating in the background here, but those issues are not part of the "fit" argument, unless the culture is so hidebound AGAINST anything except "like me". . .and that goes for minority organizations that never hire whites as well as radio stations that don't hire over 30 or faith-based companies that keep out "others."

"Fit" means we have roughly the same values and aspirations, and therefore have a basic understanding of each other. We like talking about the same thing, whether sports or mathematical problems or the growth of the Latin American market. We may not have the same native language but we appreciate where the company is headed and how we're going to help take it there.

Before I understood the importance of "fit," I failed in a hiring experiment. I was a corporate recruiting manager during a product expansion, hiring dozens of new sales reps each year. The district managers sent me cookie cutter candidates from campus recruiting: blonde ag econ majors from land grant universities, and they did fine.

An idealist, I wanted to change the white bread mix and began selecting odd ducks to enrich our agri-business pool: an MBA from Cleveland, a finance major from New York, a secretary who had gotten a management degree. The big city guy was miserable in Louisiana, the secretary hated being the "little gal" in Lubbock. I learned eventually that, man or woman, green or purple, from an alien planet or Austin — you succeeded if you fit the organization. I didn't change back to the cookie cutter, but I definitely began going for "fit."

When the company says, "We hired the best qualified interviewee," it means, "S/he can do the job AND is a good fit."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

See What the Kid Can Do

He is 30, shrewd and handsome, a smart guy. He’s made millions by his wits, and he just lost everything. This time next week he’ll be sleeping on the floor of a friend’s house. The economy is bad. No opportunities are visible. Rock bottom. Back where he started and out of hope. I meet similar dire predicaments several times a month, and my sympathy lies lukewarm between my client and me. I know what this is, and any nice noises will only hurt him. I’m not being cruel; I’m waiting to see what he’s made of.

Suspend for a moment any belief you have about destiny, God(s), self-will, or how the universe works. Indulge my fantasy. Imagine we all have about a half dozen people somewhere out there watching over us. They are like us but older, been-there-done-that, no-nonsense. (You see them all the time at breakfast places, waving unlit cigars, kibitzing. Who knew these were really celestial power brokers?)

Say this group of smart guys, none of them under 60, is the guardian group of my smart guy, and they’re watching his tragedy unfold.

“Oomph,” they all groan as he takes his body blows. They have similar memories and scars, but no one reaches out to lift him up. They sit there, intent, tight in the shoulders, silent. The head smart guy takes out his cigar, leans forward, and gruffs, “Let’s see what the kid can do.” And they watch.

We can have lucky lives. Jobs appear out of nowhere. An unexpected raise lifts our noses from the want ads. Even a downsizing can net us the capital to start that home business. But every single life has moments that lay us down for the count. Suddenly, you can’t find any job. Or, you’ve screwed up and you’re afraid you’ll get fired. Or, you can’t seem to get back on the yummy side of the organizational scorecard. All your best-faith efforts turn to dust in your hands. You are not — as some people wonder — being singled out and punished for some past-life deed. You have not used up your luck. But this is a test, I firmly believe, to see what you’re made of. How do you handle adversity? What actions will you take when you see no way out? How will you crawl out of this hole?

The smart guys watching you want you to succeed, but they realize the strengthening nature of scar tissue on the knees. They understand the character that can be developed when you shove fear, anger, self-righteousness, and hopelessness aside. They know that, at the end of the day, no matter how many resources you have, it’s up to you and nobody else to make “better” happen. Old smart guys know they learned the most from their failures and recoveries.

What do you do to get going again?

1. Set your “get-over-it” clock. These truly were body blows. Check your spirit in the morning. If you’re full of your misfortune, then set a timer for how long you’ll let yourself feel bad today. When the bell dings, put on your can-do cloak and head out into the day. You might as well take a positive attitude with you.

2. Look around for any hope that might be lying around. You might see a goal you’ve overlooked. “Why not now?” could be your response this time when the ideas pop up that you have said “No way” to before.

3. If you have no goals, go ask smart guys you know. See if their ideas link up with who you are.

4. If you don’t know smart guys, try a coach or counselor. Your ideas may be buried deeper than you thought; and these folks can help you feel better about yourself and more confident on your journey.

5. Pray. Now is the time to seek help from the highest places. Don’t overlook this resource. But don’t just wait to see what the deity will do. You have to get moving.

6. If you still have nowhere to turn, then start anywhere. Get out of your house. Drive around. Have coffee. Go to the library. If you’re truly a smart guy, you’ll be like a dowser who takes a forked twig and wanders till he feels a pull toward the earth, a sign that water is below. Smart guys and dowsers have a lot in common. They don’t know where the opportunity lies, but getting out and wandering around gets the job begun. When you look for what’s you and eliminate what’s not, you begin to feel pulled. Do not, however, consider this your major strategy. Goals and thoughtful action work better every time.

7. Get up. Whatever you decide to do, just get up. And get up every day, even if it feels like you’re flapping on the bottom of the ocean. Be determined not to let this define you or beat you. Countless others before you have experienced this same lousy deal, and they all learned that the fighting they did built their core, taught them valuable lessons and, curiously, gave them gifts. They certainly learned what they were made of .

The path lies long and rocky ahead of you, but I’ve seen hundreds of people rise up out of despair. I know you have what it takes to do what you have to do. My client did. He had only to look behind and see the mountains he had already climbed and test out his calloused hands to realize he had the necessary energy, courage, character, resilience, toughness and ability, and no other options. It took him a year to make real progress, but he got back in the game and started climbing. That’s what smart guys (who are also women) do. So can you. Show the other smart guys what this kid can do.