Here are the last three important habits in my series of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Candidates. This blog is a celebration of Stephen Covey’s book on the subject of highly effective people, which was published 25 years ago.
Habits 1 and 2 described how you handle a self-assertive and ambitious headhunter who is calling you on the phone as well as a presentation of the greatest resume mistakes ever. If you missed it, read it here.
Habits 3 and 4 were both about interview techniques; the popular behaviour-based technique typically used by professional headhunters and the most difficult of them all, the dreaded telephone interview. Read it again, here.
This time, I’ll explain the interview techniques used by most executive search and multi-national companies: the behaviour-based interview. Some call it competency-based – but don’t let that fool you. It’s all the same. I will also be sharing some tips on how to get through the most difficult of all interviews: the telephone interview.
5. Don’t make the headhunter hate you
Dear Bob when my name is Tom: Do you too get upset when people call you Sombat when your name is Annan? Or get an email that begins Dear Bob when your name is Tom? Does it not show some level of attention, or rather lack of attention, to details? When someone isn’t bothered to check that they’re addressing a person correctly, what else does this person get wrong? Probably a lot.
Resume of too many pages: A resume with too many pages will still get a max of 20 seconds of attention – if that. Remember that the purpose of a resume is to get someone to call and invite you for an interview. Placing personal information and a photo on top of page one, writing about your responsibilities instead of your achievements, and including information about things you did 20 years ago, will not help you get that attention.
Dress up for the Saturday night disco when going to an interview: There is a big difference between going to the Saturday night disco and attending a job interview. The mini skirt, high heels and red lipstick are all fine at your local dance club but that’s where it stops. Dress appropriately; to the women, this means no short skirts, no big earrings and rainbow coloured nails and don’t apply too much perfume; to the men, wear a tie and even a jacket if the company is in the business where such a dress code is the norm.
Claim you got an MBA when you actually didn’t: Just recently the new CEO of the Internet giant Yahoo falsely claimed a computer science degree on his resume. He didn’t get away with it and was fired. According to research conducted by The Society of Human Resource Managers a few years ago, over 50% of individuals lie on their resume in some way. If you attended parts of an MBA or other studies, but didn’t graduate, either say what you did or leave it out all together. Don’t fall for the temptation to beautify your resume. Real search firms will typically outsource the background investigation to companies specialising in this work. Be warned, we will get you.
Merge two jobs into one period and one company name: Job hoppers are usually perceived negatively because they have switched jobs too many times. But even so, it’s career suicide to merge two jobs into one by combining the length of the two jobs into one period and then using one company name and title as a header. Good recruiters will carry out reference checks and background investigations – not necessarily with the people you have referred.
Say one thing to me and something different to my client: Talking in the interview with the recruiter as though you are actually still working, or even more disturbing, telling the recruiter where you are now working, but then suddenly revealing in the interview with the possible future employer that in fact you have left that “current” company and are now unemployed is not a good idea. I still cannot get my head around why anyone would think this strategy is working to their advantage. Why hide facts from the headhunter you want help from and show the client interviewer that you cannot be trusted? Go figure.
Cancel the interview at the last minute or not show up at all: OK, so we have finally managed to set you up with our client’s CEO, but you call us in the morning to say your boss has asked for an urgent meeting. You can’t go. Never mind that our client CEO is a regional manager who flew in the night before from Shanghai just to meet you. What could be worse than that? Only one thing is more inappropriate and selfish, and that is staying away without letting anyone know you do not intend to come for the interview. Totally incomprehensible and yet it happens.
6. Career suicide: the creepy counter offer
Here’s the picture: “Sorry, but I don’t think I can join your client. I know I already signed the employment contract and that I promised I would never change my mind. But you see, my boss has given me a new big important project. He told me I’m the only one in the company who can be trusted to carry this sort of responsibility. They are all so nice to me. And she also gave me a new title.” Me (after he hung up): Aaaaarrrrggghhhh !*$#@#$*!!!
Accepting a counter offer is a shortcut to a career detour – as bad as having an affair with the boss. The counter offer is an insult to your intelligence. You have been bought and it should be a blow to your pride. By resigning you are essentially breaking a trust that you had with your current employer. If you take the counter offer and stay, your company may feel that it owns you. You will be known as the one who caused your employer grief by threatening to quit. You’ll no longer be known as a loyal employee.
As a highly effective candidate you need to make it clear when you hand in your notice that you have already committed yourself to join another company. This means that you have signed a contract and will not entertain any counter offers. You only want to talk about how you can assist with a smooth transition. Using this script makes it clear to your boss that you are not planning on talking about your decision to leave. Rather, your intention is to focus on how to make the last weeks a good transition for all involved.
It is also critical that the resignation letter and meeting make no reference to where you are going, what you will be doing there or how much you will be making. The best tactic is the direct, straight to the point approach. Don’t beat around the bush and start small talk.
7. You got the job, now earn it
When you start a new job, you are in a temporary state of incompetence. No one expects you to have all the answers and to know everything; in fact, people will be suspicious if you imply that you do. Avoid the temptation to think you have to be the savior and have immediate answers.
You will generate goodwill and support by reaching out to others, listening, trying to be helpful, and committing to showing others that you were the right choice for the job. Establishing your credibility takes a variety of skills, primarily: having a sound strategic agenda, being on top of the details of the business, listening and learning from your boss or other executives, communicating clearly, building a strong and committed team, and maintaining a certain amount of humility.
While you’re going about asking questions, listening and learning, the most important thing you need to determine – besides all the basics like what your job is, what your superiors expect of you, and how to actually do your job – is how to make a real impact. You can take some time with this so don’t rush it. But before long, it’s a good idea to remind people that you’re not just there to ask questions and listen, and that the management’s original reasons for hiring you were valid. That you are actually capable of producing results. The way you do that is to set a goal and plan to accomplish something reasonably visible and impactful.
In the management book “You’re In Charge – Now What?” by James Citrin and Thomas Neff, the authors recommend you to consider such fundamental questions as: What do you hope I do? What are you concerned I might do? What are you concerned I might not do?