Can a Recruiter Help You Discover Your Hidden Talent?

200126439-001Once they’re in the workforce, many people go through life wondering.

Wondering if they are in the right job.

Wondering if they have some hidden talent or secret superpower that would burst forth if only the environment were right.

Wondering if someone with a better knowledge of career paths and the job market could help them discover their latent talent and suggest a perfect job for them.

Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Here’s part of an email that came across my desk from a friend, “You think you know what you want out of life/a job, but maybe you’re not seeing a talent or skill you possess that might be in an area you never thought of before.”

So, can a outside recruiter help these lost souls discover some hidden talent? Unfortunately, no. It’s not the role of a recruiter to guide a candidate along a career path, or take a chance on them because of some indescribable “spark” for the job/industry. It’s nothing personal – a recruiter’s responsibility is to the client who hired them, and the client always wants the best and most-qualified candidate possible.

So now these wandering, wondering souls have a choice, though it’s a bit of a Catch-22.

One: Career Coaches. They could help to discover a secret super-power. But they rarely have in-depth knowledge of the current status of the real-world job market. It’s an important distinction, because while they might help figure out what someone is good at, they don’t necessarily have the connections to help find an open job in the desired field.

Two: Recruiters. They (should) have terrific job market knowledge. But their goal – because they’re paid for it – is to find someone who already demonstrates the strong skills needed for an open position – not to help someone who is passionate (but inexperienced) break into a company. Large companies have in-house recruiters, which may present a slightly better hope. They may be willing to take a chance on someone. But the odds of stumbling across such a perfect opportunity are pretty slim. Even if the recruiter is willing to take risks on inexperienced newcomers, breaking into a new industry would still require finding and applying for the open position before it’s filled by someone experienced. I’m guessing there’s almost never going to be a callback for an interview.

But don’t worry lost souls – all hope is not lost.

Third Option: Self-reflection.

One of our recent posts suggests taking a different view of how to manage a career, suggesting that careers are merely grand experiments, filled with lots of dead ends. But like Edison with the light bulb, keeping the experimentation alive may lead to a breakthrough, or a discovery of hidden super-powers. Back in December, Bob also offered some advice on finding hidden passion. Just ask the right question – What’s the problem you love to solve? And if that’s not enough, there’s a much more in-depth way of looking at meaningful work here. It’s not as “follow your dreams” hokey as one might think – there’s 5 specific pieces of advice would hopefully help formulate how to find a life full of meaningful work. The book referenced, So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport might help as well. As the blog writer puts it, “Unless we can clearly define our choices to ourselves, we can’t make informed decisions.”

The No-Nonsense Way to Negotiate Your Salary

Hand and money darts isolated on white backgroundIf you are going to spend your days toiling for pay, you need to understand how compensation decisions are made. You’ve probably already realized that the days of generous cost of living raises are over. Seniority doesn’t necessarily pay. And you should never threaten to quit just to wrangle a raise from your boss. Most corporate compensation strategies rely on two key factors: your job performance and the ever-shifting market rate for your skills.

But what is the market rate for your skills? What do other employers pay? Most job seekers don’t really know with any certainty. And that makes salary negotiations profoundly difficult. Employers often spend serious money to understand the market rate, either hiring expensive compensation consultants or paying for high quality salary surveys.

But job seekers don’t have to negotiate blindly any more. More on that below, but first some context:

A few years ago, I provided a framework on how to approach your salary negotiations. I said that:

Only two things matter in salary negotiations, market rate and the premium a top performer can command.

  • If you want to know the true market rate for your skills, make friends with someone in HR and ask them to look up your title using two or three reputable salary surveys (not the free online salary calculators).
  • To command a premium over market rate, you must prove the business impact you can make – help your future employer understand why you are worth that premium.  THAT is what the interview process is for, and THAT is how to negotiate the highest possible salary.

Please note that I said to beware of the free online salary surveys:

Going in to negotiate with HR using information they distrust is never a good plan, and most of the free salary websites that accept user generated input are not viewed as credible by HR. You see, HR folks trust salary surveys where the input comes from payroll systems, not self-reported salaries.

OK, you already know the data about your own job performance, but now, for a pittance, you can get credible salary data for your job. You no longer need to bribe Jill in HR with pricey drinks just so you can borrow her salary survey. (Sorry Jill, the gravy train is over.)

The salary negotiation playing field is now level.

Just go fill out this online form at Keating Advisors.  For a pittance, you’ll have a customized report with data as good as your HR department. You don’t even need to brush up on your freshman statistics class, the report is written in plain language. (The language of compensation is filled with statistics (like “50th percentile”) that you need to know.)  We just interviewed Kim Keating at the Washington Business Journal, you can read the whole interview here. Having accurate market data changes the negotiation process for the better. It puts you on an equal playing field – your side of the field isn’t slightly uphill and filled with rocks while the HR compensation expert’s is flat and freshly mowed.

Once you have good data, the key is learning how your organization uses the data. You need to ask about your organization’s compensation philosophy. They may target the median market rate (50th percentile) for front line positions and 75th percentile for high-demand revenue generation or executive positions. Or maybe they’re a non-profit and have decided to pay less than the 50th percentile across the board, because they have a compelling mission, or great benefits. Don’t assume you know how compensation decisions are made. Every organization makes their own choices. But remember that the goal of most compensation plans is to reward performance, not to treat everyone the same. Fair pay does not mean that top performers and bottom performers all get a 3% raise.

So now that you understand the market rate, and how your organization thinks about compensation, it’s time to shift the conversation to one focused on your performance. It’s a strong foundation for a serous conversation, and no longer a silly exercise in haggling over a used car.

These days, storytelling is more important than ever.

Businessman at office reading a contract

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
― Philip Pullman

Who doesn’t love a good story? Whether it’s a book, movie, Youtube video, or campfire tale, they fill a void that’s difficult to explain. We frequently perform searches for communications professionals, those people who *gasp* majored in English or Communications, and fortunately for the organization, have the uncanny ability to distill a complex message down to its essence, and then brew it into something new and complex. Their stories make clients and customers care deeply for the product or mission. Even more importantly, they help to keep the organization memorable. And with the ever increasing noise of the Web, those who can master storytelling and effective communication grow increasingly more important. Those businesses that don’t focus on their storytelling will be lost in the noise.

So what to do? If you’re looking for a leg up in your organization, start learning how to best tell stories – this article thinks that This Will Be The #1 Business Skill Of The Next 5 Years.

Research indicates that 78 percent of CMOs think content is the future of marketing. And two thirds of marketers think branded content is superior to PR, direct mail, and print advertising.

With the increasingly equal playing field of the internet, storytelling is something that any business can do – and maybe now’s the time to dip your toes in the water. You don’t need a huge marketing department. You just need to make your customers care.

How to Send an Interesting Interview Follow-Up Note

Soreaching candidates you landed the interview, did your company research, had great rapport with the hiring manager and breezed through the interview questions.  You gave a proper, firm handshake, and left the interview feeling pretty good about yourself. Then they didn’t call you, or a month went by…and they turned you down. What gives?

You should have written a follow-up note. Maybe you did, but it was a waste of their time, because it offered nothing useful, and was the exact note they’ve seen 1000 times before, so they hit delete without even looking at the name. Sending a follow-up note is expected. You’re not leaping ahead of the pack by sending one, you’re still in the middle of the pack. Hey, at least you’re not the sickly, limping straggler anymore, right?

If you want your follow-up note to shine, and really make a good impression on your potential employer, you need to offer some additional value to your potential future employer. And if you need some advice on how to do so, check out this excellent article – page two even has an email template for you to start with. By showing your willingness to help solve a problem for their company, even before an offer is extended, you’re bound to make a good impression. That was the whole point of your note, right?


How To Get Help From Busy People

frustrationVery few people know how to grab the attention of a busy person. As a recruiter, I get dozens of emails a week from job seekers, and daily requests to connect on LinkedIn. 99% of my LinkedIn inbox requests are the standard invitation, “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

Don’t do that. Sending the generic LinkedIn invite is a terrible idea.

Now, I’m in the business of placing people, so I’ll still make the connection, but lots of other busy people won’t. That’s why I loved a recent article about how to get important people to respond to your emails. It’s a great read, filled with six common-sense and easy to follow bits of advice that should start helping you today. If you want your email or LinkedIn invitations read – and more importantly, responded to – read it.

So if you want help from a busy person:

  • Get to the point.
  • Provide some context.
  • Explain what you want specifically and succinctly.
  • Thank them.
Once you’ve made a connection, cultivate it. If email won’t cut it and you need to make a phone call, the advice in this article will keep you on track – try to keep it under 15 minutes.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

interview xyz

I have never been comfortable answering the standard interview question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” because I never planned my career in that way. Many people feel the same way. It’s not that we don’t have goals, but our goals are not oriented toward picking a spot for ourselves on the organization chart. Perhaps 30 years ago people in stable organizations could plan careers that way,  “I see myself as Director of ____ in 3 years,” or “I plan to be Vice President of ____ in 5 years.” But those days are long gone.

I’ve always engaged in the types of problems that interest me, and spent my time getting better and better at solving the problems that I’m passionate about. If you show me a staffing problem, I’m endlessly interested and engaged, but if you show me an accounting problem I’m not.  With this career approach, there’s little focus on whether I will be a Director or Vice President of  ____ in 3 to 5 years. A title is not my goal. My goal is to constantly improve my ability to solve the specific kinds of business problems I’m interested in.

Even if you have a 5 year goal, you must be careful how you answer this question in an interview. Maybe your answer reveals that you’re trying to get the interviewer’s job, which makes them feel threatened. Maybe your answer does not take into account how their specific promotion cycle works and it puts you at risk of appearing to be too ambitious or not ambitious enough simply because you don’t understand the titles they use.

So if this question comes up in one of your interviews, do the Washington thing, and answer a different question. Senior executives and politicians do this all the time for a good reason. Instead of picking a title or position that you’re aiming for, answer the question as if you were asked “What kinds of problems do you like solving?” With your answer, you’re bound to demonstrate a lot more regarding your interests and passions, and will provide more insight into your character and motivations than answering with the question your interviewer asked.

Women: How we could be Accidentally Stunting our Career Growth

A fascinating study by Europe’s Institute of Leadership and Management examined the difference in confidence levels between working men and women. The study showed that men exhibit much higher levels of self-confidence across all age groups, with lower levels of self-doubt. These higher confidence levels could be contributing to more men being promoted, over women of the same skill. So how do we women figure out how to change this pattern? Women leadership experts Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath, and Mary Davis Holt have classified the problem into 4 main areas:

  1. Being overly modest.” – Women tend to hope their achievements will show themselves, while men are often faster to publicly showcase their success.
  2. Not asking.” – If you don’t ask for the promotion, you won’t get it. Women often fail to show their interest and fight for why they’re the right fit.
  3. Blending in.” – Women often take action (or lack of action) to avoid standing out in the crowd. But if you just stand back, you’ll miss out on many opportunities.
  4. Remaining silent.” – Speak up in meetings, even if it’s overwhelming with three people talking at once. You won’t get anywhere by keeping your ideas to yourself.

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