Careers, Jobs, Networking, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Always Mow in Straight Lines…or not?

Earlier in the summer we were out walking in a suburban Crown Point, IN neighborhood. We were home visiting family for the the most American holiday of all, the 4th of July. I slowed down to watch a neighbor mowing his lawn. A pretty normal sight, right?! He was moving much slower than I did when I mowed, granted it was hot, but I was so curious what he was doing. As I watched, he was carefully lining up the tires of his mower with the previous marks he had left from the completed row. It dawned on me, he was trying to have each mowed stripe be straight across the entire front of his home. I laughed out loud.

As we continued walking along the sidewalk, I said, “No way. He’s concentrating so hard on making the lines of his lawn perfectly straight.”

“Well, of course,” my husband responded, “you can’t have crazy lines going all different directions.”

“Of course you can,” I said with emphasis on the “can”. “I go in circles, and when you leave town next I’m going to do zig zags and infinity circles on our lawn!”

We laughed, but I know he wouldn’t be happy when he came home, the dissymmetry would disturb him.

“Different Strokes for Different Folks”

I got a lot of mileage out of that one and it made me laugh but I also had to pause and see the beauty of the metaphor. There are so many different ways to mow your lawn or live your live. Some people feel calmed and secure with straight organized lines or career paths. Others like to wander and mow in circles as they explore options, try out new ways so they don’t get bored. I fall into the second category, and if someone says I can’t do something, I always respond, “Watch me!” And I build a company to meet the need.  I can also appreciate my engineer husband’s pragmatic style because I wouldn’t want the ship to sink or the building to collapse.

Build Strong Foundations

I think we learn a lot from different styles. Some times it’s important to stay inside the lines and go along the straight pathway. Mastering certain knowledge, getting the basics under our belt and gaining experience are all important building blocks. We can think of these skills as the ABCs. Along with the ABCs, we need to include life skills training, like financial literacy or healthy interpersonal relationships. Rigorous study and a straight career path towards a trade or profession is respectable and important. I think a surgeon who knows their anatomy is who I’d want operating on my shoulder to make sure it works afterward.

Those of us who wander, like to explore, and don’t have everything mapped out in advance, but still need the basics too. If you have a solid base of knowledge it keeps your options open. Wanderers need the freedom to explore different ways to do things. “Not all who wander are lost” is so true and I say embrace it.

Different Approaches Improve Outcomes

Even though these two groups of people think about things in different ways or prefer to take action (like mowing the lawn) in specific ways, doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive. I think often these two ways (and there are many more shades of gray) can compliment each other and bring out the best.

That same shoulder surgery needs to be completed just right, but I also think the person who thinks of innovative ways to do the shoulder surgery in a more effective way will be the person who makes progress in the field.

Practice Self-Awareness & Acceptance

Be aware of how you think and perform best. Recognize the environment that will suit your personal style so you will flourish and contribute to company success. Finally, don’t stick to people who think just like you, but expose yourself to those who do things differently from you so that everyone can share and learn from the experience. If we always do everything the same way we will never grow. Many important discoveries were made through accidents and failures, or by mowing the lawn in zig zags.

Careers, Communication, Jobs, Networking, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

It’s Showtime! Deliver Your Best Performance

Interviewing is a performance and to do it well you must practice. In the arts it’s called “woodshedding”. It’s imperative to spend time out in the “woodshed” preparing for your performance. I know right now you are saying,

“An interview is not a performance!”

I’m going to say, “But, it is.”

I’ve prepared all sorts of people for interviews over the past 25 years. Some were high school students about to get their first internships. Other’s were Peace Corps Volunteers, after 3 years of field service, and about to re-enter the American workforce. I’ve done workshops for grad students as they launch their careers. Professionally, I have coached 100s of people through the years as they prepare for phone or in-person interviews.

Here’s a comprehensive prep for interviews that you can check out from an earlier blog, Demonstrating Value on an Interview,

Focus on the Presentation  

You can do research, you can prep, you can practice, but if you don’t deliver you won’t get the offer. The goal of any phone screen is to obtain an in-person meeting. If it’s a full day of interviews, the goal is to receive an offer. Once you have an offer, you can decide if you want the position, but otherwise you don’t have any power in the situation.

When you are interviewing, you have the company’s wish list in front you of you. The quality of a job descriptions can vary depending on who wrote it. Some are very detailed and include enough responsibilities for three people. Others are barely there and it’s hard to even figure out what a company wants. You can do your homework on the company and the people you will meet with for the interviews. These are the basic things that most people know to do as they prepare for any interview.

The bottom line though is there may be three highly qualified professionals interviewing for the same position, and they will hire the person they like the most. What this means is that having the skills is important, but connecting and presenting yourself is even more important. I’m not saying be disingenuous. Don’t ever misrepresent yourself. But be aware that you only have 30 secs to capture a screener’s attention on a resume, or 20 minutes on a phone screen, or 90 minutes to really show who you are during a face to face.

My first interview after college was a referral from my internship. I didn’t have any tattoos at the time or other unusual marks/piercings, but I did have an asymmetric hair cut and a pretty serious outlook on life. I got the job, based on recommendations. Later my first boss told me,

“I almost didn’t hire you because you didn’t smile once on the interview”.

I responded, “Interviews are serious things, why would I smile? And besides, I was really nervous!”

Be Yourself

So how do you let your personality come through on an interview in the right amounts without sinking your own audition? Interviews are very much like auditions. The company is trying to see how you fit in with it’s people and corporate culture as well as be able to accomplish the required tasks. How do you present your skills in an interesting way?

As I coached people over the years, I’ve found that “tooting your own horn” or talking about yourself is something that is very hard. Some feel it’s like bragging, others have a hard time expressing themselves. I would argue that your ability to respond to questions with specific examples that demonstrate your abilities to accomplish the goals, is critical. Additionally, turning an interview into a conversation where there’s give and take so the participants connect is crucial. No one-sided monologues, please.

I spend 4-6 hours on the phone with clients and candidates most days. If the conversations were all stiff and formal, I would probably lose my mind. Plus, careers and hiring professionals for a company is a nuanced process. Despite what most people believe, the person hired for a new position is not the most qualified, it’s the person who has the best chemistry with their future employer. For me to discover the interpersonal style and corporate culture of a company, I need to be able to learn more about each person than the formal professional exchanges. When my kids hear me talk to people on the phone, they often can’t tell if it’s a personal or professional call. I take great pride in this observation. But it’s not a fully truthful statement.

Getting to know people in a professional setting is different than in the personal arena and there are some strong boundaries that need to be recognized. Know the difference.

Professional vs Personal

Friendly is fine, TMI is sharing too much personal information. There’s truly a difference between surface sharing and divulging deep personal believes or experiences. Additionally, in the career world, there are do’s and don’t’s about what can legally be discussed.

To find common ground is ideal and a great place to start a conversation. Typically, identifying where someone comes from, if they have kids or animals is easy. When I was in an open bull pen office, my colleagues used to say that they knew all about me. They knew how many kids I have, that we were big soccer fans, and that we had lived and traveled all over the world. The reality was that these are three things that people can connect around and talk about without getting too personal.

Politics, personal life beyond basics stats, partying, imbibing habits, not so hot topics to share. We all have such decisive lines drawn around many of these subjects. It’s really important to find the common ground first. To warm up with casual chatter and then circle back to the job, your interviewer, and the company is key.

Remember smile, speak clearly, look into someone’s eyes when you speak. Your comfort level may be mixed, but fake it, be confident and if you prepared enough out in the wood shed, your performance will be delivered effectively and with aplomb.