Nightmare Interviews

Career advisors often tell anecdotal stories of interviewing faux pas in order to help clients understand common mistakes that are made in interview situations. There are plenty of stories of interviewees that interviewed wearing white tube socks (or no socks at all), having some nervous twitch like head scratching throughout the interview, or the many tales of candidates just saying the darnedest things.

What I have not seen so much are the nightmarish stories from the interviewees perspective. Sometimes the interviewers themselves are lacking a sense of etiquette, creating an immediate turn-off for the potential candidate.

What made me think of this was a recent story I heard of a poor woman whose interviewer decided that the interview was a perfect opportunity to multi-task and ate her entire lunch during the interview. All people do need to eat, but wouldn’t it be more considerate to schedule a lunch interview so that the interviewee could eat too? I am familiar with a similar story where the interviewer checked, sorted, opened, and read her mail during a person’s interview. Both actions were potentially good psychological intimidation tests for the interviewees, but too blatantly rude and disrespectful for me to acknowledge as being appropriate or professional.

I am wondering if any readers have stories to share, and perhaps even somebody has the story what could be qualified as the worst job interview experience ever. If you think you have a story, please do tell!

A Whole New Opportunity

Of the many career writers I (try to) follow, Daniel Pink has become one of my favorites. I first became aware of Mr. Pink when he was the keynote speaker at a career conference I attended a few years ago. And once I read his book, A Whole New Mind, I was hooked.

I now follow his blog, and his Twitter. Mr. Pink is creative, resourceful, and witty. And he will forever hold the distinction of writing the first career book in MANGA.

Now we will all have a chance to explore the mind of Daniel Pink. On Friday June 6, at 9 AM (PST), he is going to host a teleconversation on Learn from My Life.

I will be hard at work at that time, but for the rest of you fortunate enough to have a free moment, register and enjoy!

Three Steps to Writing a Cover Letter for a Career Change

So you’ve spent years working in a less than satisfying field, and now you are looking to change into something that fits you better. Problem is, your background is in a different field or you feel you do not have the exact experience that they are asking for. Before you give up or become too anxious thinking that what you are applying for is too much of a dream or not the right fit, focus your mind on why you thought you should apply for the position in the first place. Even if it was from a friend goading you on to something they thought you would like, try to allow for the fact that if you or somebody else at some point thought you would be a good match, there is probably something in it that would convince the employer the same. Here are three helpful steps in devising your cover letter to give you some leverage in making a major leap:

1) Research the position extensively.
Perhaps the most convincing argument you can use to convince an employer that you would be an excellent match for a position is to express an understanding for the position that goes beyond what is merely stated in the job description. What would the position really be like? How would your background prepare you for potential challenges? What things are congruent in your history? With research, you have the opportunity to identify congruent items that are not defined in your resume, such as company culture. The more you are able to express an understanding for the company/position you are applying for, the more they might be willing to consider you despite your work history. Please appreciate how critical insider networking can be to establish this step, and do not be afraid to call upon your friends when doing this research.

2) Put your best foot forward first.
Once you have researched the position, you need to make sure that what you mention in the cover letter are your most persuasive points. The best way to do this is to take inventory of your greatest achievements in all of your history, and consider which of these would be of greatest value or interest to the potential employer. If you “wow” them with your achievements, they are more likely to see your potential, since rarely does any candidate perfectly match a description anyway. The idea is if you have a history of achievement in your former work, you are more likely to be the same in your new capacity.

3) Connect the dots.
This may be the third step, but it is no less important than the other two. These connections are what we call transferable skills. So you never used the main proprietary software that will be your main tool for the position you are targeting. But for your last two positions, you quickly adapted to their software tools. This can be a real challenge to come up with relevant experience, but you cannot rely on your potential employer to figure out how you fit.

Remember, for each opportunity, the competition ultimately dictates the outcome–and that is one variable that you have no control over. What you do have control over is whether or not you take a risk. The timing might just allow you to succeed in this stretch if you take the initiative of putting yourself out there first. You can never win or lose if you don’t try.

Nice Niche

Presently, I work for an organization whose primary mission is to promote higher education, including the value education has in creating career opportunity. I wholeheartedly share this vision, which is largely why I why I work there. But, there is something to be said for those who are able to identify a unique skill that they have or a need in the world that few, if any are addressing. And though an education can certainly help one accomplish this, there are some who are fortunate enough to find this niche without one.

My example originates with a problem sliding glass door. The wheels on this 50 year-old door were so worn away that I nearly separated my shoulder everytime I had to open it. After living with my door this way for over a year, I finally resolved to do something about it. Since the door was so very old, the dimensions were no longer manufactured. Buying a new door and having it installed would be too expensive. Maybe somebody could fix it.

With the Internet and yellow pages, I began calling glass vendors to see if any of them provided door repair service. I called at least 10 places, and got all negative responses. With each call, I asked for possible referrals–and nobody had any helpful leads.

Finally, one of the vendors knew of a man who did this service. Excitedly, I took down the unlisted number and called. The man who answered the phone did not go out of his way to sound customer-service friendly. I shared my problem, and he told me that it would be $260 to fix. $260?!!! I told him that I would go and buy a door instead. Confidently, he said I would spend at least $1000 that way, and told me to feel free to call back, but if I wanted service that day, I would need to call back soon. With a bit of resentment, I consented to have his service.

This man was amazingly efficient. With a small hammer and a wheel that he had to customize to make it fit under my door, he had my door fixed in less than fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! I handed the check over, but before he left, I asked him a few questions about his career. (Career Counselors can be notorious for this!) He apprenticed straight out of high school and had been fixing doors for over 20 years. With a quick glance at my door he could spout off the brand name, the years of manufacture, and some of my door’s uniquie attributes. He told me he averaged at least 10 jobs a day. I mumbled something about not even making a fraction of that money with my Master’s degree, and he had a very insightful response, and that was that door-fixing was the only thing he knew.

This man was the only sliding door fixer around. He had found a niche, and had a tremendously successful living as a result of it. He was passionate enough to be a true expert in an area where apparently no one else cared to be his competition.

What is special about you? What creative niches can you identify or develop which will bring special value to your work? Challenge yourself to find this. Soul search, work with a career counselor, and keep your creative mind vigilant for opportunity; and you too can identify something that is rare as it is valuable within yourself.

Follow the Freak

I know I mentioned Dave Rendall in a recent post, but he has been posting some amazing stuff in his Freak Factor blog, so by creating an entire posting on him, I hope to encourage everyone to follow regularly what Dave writes. His posting for today, (#101) titled The Puzzle Freak, is a wonderful and inspirational analysis of the life and success of NY Times puzzlemaker, Will Shortz. Check it out!

Virtual Success

Today, a coworker left a copy of the WSJ Weekend edition at my desk to have me look at the article My Virtual Summer Job, by Alexandra Alter. It was notably fascinating to see economic resiliency in action, as times of recession are often the mother of entrepreneurial invention. This article documents teens making substantial money in virtual worlds such as Second Life and Entropia. Not that it is the most difficult thing to do, but some of these teens are making more money than I am, when their “real” opportunities are minimum wage or non-existent.

I am fascinated at how the Internet continues to change the landscape of enterprise. Where people once had to locate themselves near cities in order to maximize their work opportunities, here is another example of a person being able to live in a somewhat remote area, and have access to millions for their goods, trades, or services–all thanks to the Internet. Perhaps this is an extension of Seth Godin’s new standard for conferences and meetings, where people can meet in virtual fashion, cutting out commutes, etc. And in a virtual world I can look like George Clooney if I thought it would help me.

Positives aside, I am sure I am not the only one who wonders where this is all going. I sometimes hear the voices of naysayers admonishing that our attachments to technology separate us from the spiritual, truly intimate, and sublime. Or that technology ultimately threatens our knowledge and ability to survive. Truly, I could be enjoying a starry night or some community event right now, but instead I chose to sit for additional hours in front of my computer to read other blogs and add to my own. I can honestly say that I know individuals in my online community far better than I know my real next door neighbors.

That said, I am inspired to go out and connect again with the real world. And while I’m out, I’ll stop somewhere where I’m likely to meet lots of people. Perhaps I can make it to a major social gathering like the midnight release of the Nintendo Wii Fit. And after I buy one, I will focus on finding my spiritual center by playing the yoga game.

Strive for your best

An aspiring writer and friend of mine, T.M. Camp has lately been posting inspiring quotes from major writers on his blog. One of the many inspiring things about Mr. Camp is his persistence and tenacity in creating an audience for his first full-length novel. Though as of yet he has not secured an agent, he has established a loyal audience by podcasting his entire work, titled Assam & Darjeeling.

His posting on March 25th is a quote from one of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor:

“At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily.”

Though this quote can be applied to all areas of life, it certainly pertains to career. How many people settle for less in their career lives, when with a little courage and motivation for growth, they could be moving toward or immediately experiencing their best? Change requires a willingness for risk, but the potential reward is moving away from mediocrity and moving toward success and greatness. The challenge is yours: strive for your best.

Considering a job in nonprofit?

When people ask about what I do, I typically say that I have the most gratifying work. This is what drives a lot of people into helping professions, and more specifically in my case, to work for non-profit organizations. A good friend recently contributed to an excellent resource to help individuals explore non-profit careers–and these resources are FREE.

One of the most popular job search tools in non-profit is Idealist.org, and I refer many people to it. Aside from using it as a tool to find jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities, I never spent much time looking at what else Idealist.org has to offer. Their resource section for instance has all kinds of helpful information, including the e-book guides that I was mentioning. There’s one for entry-level professionals and one for mid-career changers.

Check them out!

Progress or Perfection?

Everybody who hasn’t already would like to find their dream job. And most people who believe they have found it will at least concede that there are at least a few aspects about their job that they could do without–so even the dream job is arguably imperfect.

It is important to realize that in order to find your dream job, you must either be very lucky and by chance land in it, or you must know enough about yourself to put yourself in line with the opportunities that will lead to it. If you do not know exactly who you are, you will more than likely make a few false steps before you wind up in a most fitting career.

Understanding this process should motivate those who stay in an unsatisfying job, hoping that somehow their dream job will come their way. Would it not be more productive to move to a job that looks more like your dream job than the job you would be leaving?

And by making that step closer, your resume will better match your dream job, and you will have the opportunity to see if the dream you have in mind accurately matches you.

Therefore, you do not have to immediately step into the perfect job. Rather focus on stepping toward your dream. So long as you are getting closer, you are making progress. Holding out for perfection can lead to your missing out on the progress necessary to actually reach your goal.