How The Types of Leadership Affect Our Ability to Build An Organization

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leadership styles

As George E.P. Box has said, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” This is how we should view the many models available that attempt to illustrate the different styles of leadership that exist. There is, perhaps, no model that can completely and accurately describe all the ways leaders interact with and influence those around them. However, models can be useful in giving us a reference by which we can objectively examine important aspects of leadership and provide a basis upon which we can grow and develop our own style.

In this article, we will examine Kurt Lewin’s Three Leadership Styles and French and Raven’s Five Bases of Power. Lewin’s Leadership Styles describe the various styles of organizations that leaders build, while the Bases of Power describe the methods, capability, and tools that a leader uses to influence his/her team to build that organization. What we want our organization to look like and what drivers we have to get it there – these are the two dimensions that leaders need to consider when shaping an organization.

Three Styles of Leadership

leadership styles

Kurt Lewin asserts that there are three general leadership styles:

Authoritarian – In this type of organization, the leader makes all the decisions without input from the team members. The team is generally in the dark about future plans. The leader can certainly be viewed as friendly and personal – this style does not imply that the leader is openly hostile.

Democratic – In a democratic organization, the leader welcomes team input and facilitates discussions. Plans are shared with the team with multiple options available for the future. Team members are encouraged to work with one another and provided freedom to define the division of tasks among the team. Studies have shown that groups using democratic systems tended to be less productive than authoritative systems, but the work output was of much higher quality.

Laissez-Faire – This model stresses complete freedom among the team members in decision-making. The leader provides work materials and only participates upon request of the team. In general, this model has only been shown to generate success in teams of very highly qualified experts, otherwise it has been found to result in poorly defined roles and frustration from within the team.

It is tempting to place value judgment over each of the styles. In fact, many leaders experience challenges, particularly early in their career, by assuming that a particular style of leadership is “better” than others. The successful leader will develop an awareness of the team dynamics and emphasize leadership styles that are appropriate to the evolving needs of the organization.

Five Bases of Power

leadership skillsJohn French and Bertram Raven provide the following five bases of power by which a leader influences their team:

Coercive – This power is founded in the leader’s ability to force a team member into compliance through the threat of punishment. Though this power can be very useful for short-term compliance in situations where the organization is threatened for survival, overuse leads to long-term dysfunctional behavior and withdrawal.

Legitimate – This power is founded completely in the belief among team members that the leader has the right to give orders based on the leader’s position. The effectiveness of this power relies very heavily on the stability of the authority hierarchy within the organization. Though legitimate power will result in compliance, it does not necessarily come with commitment or cooperation.

Reward – This power is founded in the ability of the leader to provide or deny either tangible or intangible rewards to the team members. Though reward systems are generally very positive, an overdependence on it can result in team members losing focus on the job and instead on the reward system. In extreme cases, team members may be tempted to unethically or illegally perform their work to meet the quotas required for reward.

Referent – This power is derived from the respect a team has for their leader and the desire to identify with or emulate him/her. The faith a leader builds will tend to see the team members make decisions presuming what their leader would do in a similar situation as a point of reference. This form of power places a heavy responsibility on the leader to maintain the relationship. Also, this form of power is the most difficult for an organization to scale.

Expert – This power is founded in the belief that the leader has a high level of knowledge or specialized skill set. Purely speaking, when the leader shares knowledge, this power is reduced. As a result, a leader with expert power will lose the authority of this power over time as he/she shares knowledge. If the leader intentionally chooses to withhold knowledge to preserve this power, the organization will lose effectiveness over time.

It is tempting to place value judgments on each of the organization types and bases of power. The reality is that, when applied effectively and responsibly, all of these can be employed to deal with the ever shifting dynamics of a team. An exceptional leader is one who can properly identify the needs of the organization and apply his/her influence effectively.

Improving Your Abilities at Leadership (Part 3 of 3): Building Relationships and Networks

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We want to warmly extend our gratitude to those who have been following our blog. For our new visitors, this article is part of a three-part leadership series on improving your aptitude in leadership. Since the skills and disciplines are cumulative, we strongly recommend that you start with Part 1 of the series, if you haven’t already done so.

One of my favorite children’s book describes a couple who are unhappy with their home. They really like their neighbor’s home, so they decide that they will sell their existing home and purchase a new home like their neighbor’s. When they put their house up for sale, each potential buyer asks for small upgrades. Each week, as the couple work on small home projects based on the feedback they receive, the home becomes nicer and nicer. In the end, their home becomes so beautiful, that the couple chooses not to sell the home and happily live in the home they renovated.

This story portrays accurately the attitude many of us have in building relationships and networks, especially with respect to our careers. We feel dissatisfied with our existing network so we seek the kind of network that other successful people have.

Whereas the concept of extending your existing network is always a good idea, it is a mistake to focus on this at the neglect of the people in your existing circle. The fact is, for the most part, we are all surrounded by people with immense untapped potential. However, it takes a certain kind of awareness to recognize this (covered in part 2 of the series). Moreover, it takes a disciplined faithfulness to connect in this regard (covered in part 1 of the series). As a result, most of us embark on the seemingly easier route of finding successful people to connect with in hopes of having opportunity jump into our laps, magically.

Popular thinking would indicate that in order to be successful, we need to connect with people who are more successful than us. The paradox is that if we all followed this idea, no one would be capable of connecting with anyone. In any pairing, the more successful individual should not be  effectively wasting their time with the person who is trying to connect with them. Simply put, someone must always be networking with a “less successful” individual. Such a model is unrealistic.

Instead, like the couple who upgraded their home until they no longer needed to look outwards in order to find a home they liked, we should be examining our people network to understand how we can build the relationships around us. Malcolm Forbes has said, “You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them or to them.” A leader reveals a lot about her character when she builds her network based not on how she can benefit from the relationship but how she can serve those in her network.

Improving Your Abilities at Leadership (Part 2 of 3): Self-Awareness

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By way of preamble, this article is part of a three-part leadership series on improving your aptitude in leadership. Since the skills and disciplines are cumulative, we strongly recommend that you start with Part 1 of the series, if you haven’t already done so.

Many years ago, my dad shared with me a story about an elderly woman who had an alcohol addiction problem. Her family scolded her regularly to stop drinking and tried to prevent all access to alcohol for her. Yet, she continued to find ways to sneak alcohol despite their best efforts. This became an ongoing battle between her and her family who, afterall, were just concerned for her well-being.

It was this elderly woman’s grandson who effected change and in a most unlikely way. Rather than scold his grandmother and make her feel guilty about her addiction, this young man brought his grandmother one alcoholic drink a day. In addition, he would sit with her and keep her company while she drank since it was considered culturally pitiful to drink alone. He never spoke in judgment of his grandmother. He simply maintained his ritual of keeping his grandmother company as she drank the beverage he brought her. This continued for two years, at which time, without prompting, his grandmother decided to quit drinking on her own.

There are many questions that seem like they would help explain the rather surprising conclusion. What these details will not do is help us understand how we can effect change in the way the grandson did nor will they help us to pick up on the subtleties that made possible the profound insight the grandson showcased. The secret is staring us in the face in this example – simply put, suspend judgment. It is the essential habit we must form if we want to build self-awareness.

Suspend Judgment

When we interact with people, the temptation to judge their behavior, personality, and actions is very strong. We see that this rings true with the majority of the grandmother’s family. It’s unavoidable for us as human-beings and we can probably relate to the stance the family takes as well as their methods. The temptation to jump to judgment is even more so with people we think we know very well – our closest friends and family, especially as we grow older. We think that since we knew them for so long that we are highly capable of judging them. The fact is, no matter how close we are with others, we still live different lives, have different influences, and experience different victories and failures. When we jump to judgment, we effectively color the facts through the lens of our own perceptions. In doing so, we miss the subtle details which evolve solutions that are mysterious to others, but exactly what is needed.

This is the beginning of self-awareness. The reality is that we are our own worst critics. By definition, if we cannot suspend judgment when dealing with others, it is probably a good indication that we are incapable of seeing ourselves except through a judgmental lens, as well. When you suspend judgment with others, and you start to note some of the profound intuitive realizations that they need, it is also an indication of your ability to pick up on the subtler aspects of your own awareness.

Improving Your Abilities at Leadership (Part 1 of 3): Building Faith

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Describing Leadership reminds me of the story of a man who lived in a remote village far from the ocean. As he traveled across the continent and witnessed the ocean for the first time, he was stunned and completely speechless by the rolling waves, the golden sand, and the roaring crash of water on rocks. He was so moved by the breathtaking majesty that he grabbed a bucket and filled it with sand and ocean water. When he returned to his village, he showed the people the contents of his buckets and exclaimed, “This is the ocean!” Clearly, though he is factually correct, the bucket does no justice to the experience of seeing the ocean. And worse, it can give a completely distorted and unimpressive impression of what the ocean is really like.

I have observed that many leadership texts provide examples of good leadership. People then follow those examples without understanding deeply the leadership principle behind the examples. Like the bucket of ocean water, it provides technical accuracy on a topic, but misses the spirit of how profound the total experience should be. For example, there are numerous articles on the internet describing how many successful leaders wake up very early in the morning. After reading such an article, it is very tempting to believe that if we wake up early in the morning, it will lead to success. But this is like the bucket of ocean water – waking up early is a good habit, and it may be what many successful people do, but it provides no more of a profile of success or leadership than the bucket of water provides insight into the experience of the ocean.

Rather than describing examples of leadership or how leadership generates success, we will explore three vital components of developing your aptitude for leadership. The good news is that these three components can be applied immediately to your personal and career life. In addition, these three topics apply universally regardless of the style of leadership that you conform to. The challenging news is that these are very difficult ideas to master – with each component increasing in difficulty and relying on mastery of the previous. Without these, however, I contend that effective leadership is impossible.

Trust vs. Faith

The first essential component to developing your aptitude in leadership is to inspire faith in others. Faith carries with it a very significant power, but it is often mistaken with the word “trust”. Both words convey the ability to rely on others to deliver on expectations. But the ability to inspire faith, not trust, is the necessary component of effective leadership.

So, what is faith? Faith is a lot like trust but with a very key difference. Faith contains a temporal dimension. One can elicit trust in many ways. Trust can come from acknowledged expertise on a subject matter or out of a mutual relationship. It can even arise out of a gut feel. Faith, on the other hand, can only come as a result of consistent results over time. When we talk about a faithful spouse, we are talking about a person who has stayed by our side despite many ups and downs and opportunities to do otherwise. It would be silly to congratulate a newlywed on being faithful on their wedding day, because without the testing through time, there is no faith.

Why is faith powerful? Consider this rather extreme but illustrative example. If I told you that it will rain at exactly 3:35pm tomorrow, and when the next day came, the rain started falling exactly when I said it would, you would probably consider that to be quite a coincidence. If I then told you that a small earthquake would occur the following day at exactly 1:12pm, and sure enough, it did, you would probably be more than a bit amazed. Again, if I told you that in the next day, the electricity would suddenly fail for an hour starting at 5:18pm, you would likely be in genuine amazement. It is almost guaranteed that if I told you to buy a lottery ticket on the next day, you would do so without fail. The reason you would listen is not because you have any sort of trust in me. I could be a complete stranger, but the fact is that I have correctly shown consistency with my predictions for reasons that are, in my example, inexplicable to logic. You would be willing to suspend your own prejudices and accept my predictions due to the consistent results you experienced over time. This is why building faith is so crucial in leadership. Faith opens the door for others to suspend their own prejudices and logic and explore beyond their comfort zones to the point of view a leader presents. And in any decision requiring leadership, there is always sufficient uncertainty such that logic alone cannot bring agreement. It is therefore faith, not trust, that is critical in gaining agreement in key leadership situations.

How do we build faith? Clearly, I am not advising that we learn how to predict the future. The discipline which will build faith among those you influence starts with following through on your commitments. Most people understand the importance of following through when it comes to significant or important commitments. With the unpredictability of our lives, it is tempting to neglect some of our smaller and less important commitments. When we are true to our commitments, no matter how critical or minor we may believe them to be, we pave a reputation of faithfulness. Aristotle has said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” And this is my urge to you – be excellent. Be solid in your commitments, big or small. Follow through in your commitments and over time, build faith in others that, in critical situations, they can be willing to extend beyond their comfort zones and have faith in your guidance.

Why Attention to Detail On Things Such As How to Tie a Tie Are Important

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how to tie a tie

A young man has been seriously dating a woman for some time and becomes interested in marrying her. The young man’s mother promises to meet with the girl’s mother to discuss the possibility of marriage. Being a traditional story, this is the practice for wedding engagement in certain cultures. When the two mothers meet, they spend their conversation discussing the weather over a formal but light snack of hot tea and sliced bananas. After a short conversation, the young man’s mother gets up, thanks the woman, and says goodbye. The topic of marriage is never mentioned. The boy’s mother returns home to her son and informs him sadly that the girl’s mother rejected the marriage.

The above is a story commonly told to showcase the vast differences in communication norms among different cultures. People who are raised in low-context cultures – or cultures where significant communication is presented in the non-verbal cues of a conversation – are able to easily understand the conclusion of the above story. On the other hand, people who are raised in high-context cultures – cultures where the context of communication is completely in the spoken word – tended to have more difficulty.

Tea and Bananas

There are a number of clues in the story which help explain the otherwise mysterious conclusion. Here’s the explanation – both mothers knew the purpose of the meeting without having to bring up the topic. The story provides clues that the two mothers do not have any social relationship – the conversation is very short and polite on neutral topics. Also, the snack, however small, is very formal. The whole occasion has too much of a formal air to be mistaken with two friends having a casual chat. As such, there would be little reason for the two to meet in such conditions if not for the purpose of discussing the marriage of their children. As a result, the topic of marriage did not need to be brought up. Further, if the girl’s mother stated that she is not comfortable about the marriage, it could come across blunt and insulting. So instead, she gave a subtle hint – the fact that bananas do not pair well with tea – to indicate how she feels about a marriage between the young man and her daughter. The whole story hinges on this critical piece of information.

Tying In The Necktie

I want readers to understand how important it is to get the details correct when tying a necktie. So, why start with this seemingly unrelated story? Wherever I go, I am constantly surprised to see how many professionals miss important details with the tie they wear. If I simply provide advice, I am certain the importance will be downplayed or ignored. I began with the story of the tea and bananas to highlight the fact that humans are capable of picking up on the most subtlest of clues whether we like it or not. We do not need to live or work in specific cultures for this to apply, either. If you want proof, try wearing a suit and necktie to work tomorrow (I assume you normally dress casually). You will almost certainly get some puzzled reactions from your colleagues. The fact is, even without making obvious non-verbal gestures, we make statements all the time whether intentionally or unintentionally with subtle non-verbal details.

Consider the necktie. It is practically the only accent piece worn by men in formal occasions. With companies being much more relaxed in the corporate dress code, it only is the rare formal occasion that men would even need to wear a tie these days. Yet, how often have we seen our colleagues wear drab and predictable colors with a knot that is not quite centered and a crease that almost seems accidental? There is a reason why there are so many different patterns, colors, and quality of materials used in neckties. If you choose to wear a necktie every day or only for a special occasion, make sure that everything about it resonates with your personality and style. Think of it this way – the modern day necktie was popularized hundreds of years ago in the royal French court to honor the Croatian allies during the 30 Years War. The tradition withstood the test of time and flourished to the formal accent piece that is worn today. It is prudent to acknowledge the importance of getting the details correct when we so choose to wear it.

Having said all this about neckties, I acknowledge that a tie doesn’t make a person great or define who he is, no matter how well it is worn. This is about being impeccable with the subtle details in everything we do. The reason why I highlight the necktie is to emphasize that even something as small and seemingly insignificant as a necktie is rooted in rich history and significance. When we are impeccable with the subtle, those who know what to look for, take note. Those who don’t, can’t place their finger on the reasons, but they sense that something is “different” with you. In all cases, it results in people taking pause. When people take pause, they suspend judgment. When they suspend judgment, it opens the door for us to influence. And this influence is founded in a rare discipline – a cornerstone of effective leadership.

I Work Really Hard. How Come I’m Not Getting Promoted?

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Almost everywhere I go, people ask me what they need to do in order to be recognized or promoted for the great work they are doing. Many articles correctly observe that money does not buy the loyalty of an employee, but that doesn’t mean that money, rewards, and recognition are not important. What few articles seem to do is acknowledge this fact. Many of these articles simply illustrate the reasons that “money isn’t everything” (which we all know), and therefore, they think it’s ok to neglect the topic altogether (which doesn’t help us at all).

The good news is that there is almost certainly some things you can do to improve your negotiating position in this regard. That’s right – I said negotiating. The fundamental problem is that many in the corporate world do not realize that their value is tied to their understanding of negotiation and their ability to employ it effectively. People think if we just work really hard that someone will notice, reward us, and provide all the opportunities we desire. If you’ve worked for at least a few years in the corporate world, I am sure you already know that it doesn’t quite work this way. On the other hand, let’s be careful. When I say negotiation, I’m not merely referring to a literal discussion with your boss on your compensation. This is only one of many actions pertaining to the concept of negotiation and frankly, one of the last options one should engage in. The key to any negotiation is a clear understanding of the LEVERAGE we have in a situation. The more leverage we have, the more ability we have to negotiate on terms that are favorable to us. With respect to our careers, there are two factors which determine the amount of leverage we have.

The Perceived Proficiency At Our Job

 Clearly, how good we are at our jobs has an important impact on how we are compensated by our company. But how do we really know whether we are good at what we do or not? Here’s the spoiler – almost everyone I have ever spoken to believes they are good at what they do. Further, most people believe they are among the best contributors in their respective teams. The uncomfortable reality is that, no matter how good we think we are, it’s our boss that makes the decision on how it’s going to reflect in our paycheck. If you are working for a fair and skilled leader, then this should not be a cause for concern. But if you think your boss is a little clueless in this regard, then you may not be as happy to hear this truth.

Rather than bemoaning our fate at the hands of an incompetent boss, what we should be asking ourselves is why we invest so little effort in researching our prospective boss prior to taking on a new job opportunity. People have told me that they have accepted job opportunities due to lucrative compensation, interesting industry, great commute, etc. Very rarely have I heard someone tell me that it is because they have researched their prospective boss and discovered that this person has a great track record of career coaching and team development (See our article on “10 Interview Questions You Should Be Prepared to Ask The Interviewer“). The bottom line – the right boss can make a huge impact on our job and our ability to showcase our proficiency at it. The research we put into finding a great boss is extremely important and should not be trivialized.

Our Unique Abilities

I was once told a story about a king who had the most beautiful garden in the world. Everyone who visited the king’s house would compliment him on the elegance and beauty of his garden. In order to make sure he would continue to receive compliments on his garden, he took steps to ensure that his chief gardener could never get work anywhere else other than that of his own garden.

This story depicts the pattern many of us find in our careers. We become very good at certain aspects of a job. As time goes on, the management rely on us to only do that part of the job and to provide consistent results with it. With no avenue to showcase our other talents, our career growth ultimately stagnates.

Early in my career, I realized that a few of the senior people in my organization liked to monopolize the time in brainstorming sessions for new projects. Since I was a younger member of the team, those individuals would shut me down in those sessions without giving my ideas a fair chance. I recognized this situation as a weakness area I needed to improve. Rather than dwell too much on this, I tried to explore how I could exploit my strengths to even the playing field.

Fortunately, I recognized that, in small, one on one discussions, I was very skilled at connecting with my colleagues. Prior to the next brainstorming session, I laid groundwork with some of the other team members in small sessions. During the next brainstorming session, when the disruptive individuals tried to interrupt, others in the room, who already heard my ideas without disruption in the smaller sessions, prevented anyone from shutting my ideas down before it was fully explored. As a result, my influence in the team grew despite the challenges I faced.

This example showcases the importance of recognizing our unique abilities and our ability to apply them in our careers to tilt challenging obstacles to our advantage.

How Do I Know If I Have What It Takes To Be A Good Leader?

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leadership traits

This is a question I am often asked – whether I believe someone has what it takes to be a good leader or not. There are many false notions circulating about what leadership means and what it takes to showcase effective leadership. This is why it’s difficult for many to fairly evaluate their effectiveness. Some people believe that leadership is something that starts once a particular title is attained or that in any team or population, that there is room for only one leader with everyone else being a follower.

Clearly, to evaluate our leadership effectiveness, we need to examine how well we are able to produce the outcomes of effective leadership. The difficulty is sorting out what results are the actual outcomes of leadership and what outcomes are the potential side-effects. In this article, we will focus on the very primal outcomes of leadership out of which all other benefits of effective leadership are derived.

People Are Following

Very simply, if someone is a leader, there must be people who are following. It’s the literal definition of the word “leader”. We must, however, be careful to distinguish “following” from “reporting to”. By “following”, I mean people who are actively seeking that individual for advice on difficult problems. There are many corporate managers and officers who make decisions, but when that individual leaves the company, how many of those reporting to her still seek her out? If you find that people tend to seek you out for serious advice on their issues, it’s a good indication that they perceive you as a leader.

You Are Less Surprised By The Outcome of Uncertain Events

Studies have shown that most animals operate on a cause and effect type learning. That is, animals experience situations and then draw conclusions based on their experience. Humans, on the other hand, tend to draw conclusions first and then look for and favor data that supports their conclusions while ignoring information that would weaken their conclusions. This tendency is called confirmation bias. The more emotionally charged a topic is, the more likely it will be that people will have a confirmation bias.

Clearly, there is an innate blindness in such a bias and the most obvious symptom is surprise in the outcome of an uncertain event. For example, the San Francisco Bay Area is the world capitol of innovation and start-up ideas. Over the years, I have heard countless individuals describe start up strategies that seem impervious to failure. Yet, we know that, statistically speaking, most start up ideas are never able to become profitable. Nevertheless, it never fails that each time a start up company needs to shutter its doors, those involved are often shocked and dejected.

A genuine leader grows in their ability to see data objectively and make decisions with clarity on the possible outcomes, both favorable and unfavorable.

You Make Decisions Which Favor Lasting Results

Having a clear appreciation for the possible outcomes is important, but it’s even more critical to build a history of decisions which showcase stability and lasting results. Why? Simply put, because a reference point is what people seek in leaders.

Consider motion sickness. This is a feeling of nausea that occurs when motion perceived by the eyes and the fluid in the inner ear send conflicting messages to the brain. If you have ever experienced motion sickness, then you know how debilitating this can be. It’s also an amazingly appropriate parallel for how our lives often operate. We get innundated with advice and conflicting information on how to move forward with our lives and career. As we hit one dead end after another and chase after leads that go nowhere, our frustration and despair mount in a dizzying cycle.

The cure for motion sickness is to focus the eyes on a stationary reference. With respect to our careers, that reference is exactly what people are seeking with a leader amidst a volatile and uncertain career.

How have you measured up in these three categories? Do you have a success or challenge story to share?

Get Out of the Habit of Facing the New Year with Only 50% of Your Perspective!

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May I first begin by warmly wishing everyone a Happy New Year. And with the New Year, it is appropriate for us to look forward to the exciting possibilities of the coming year and reflect on the events, both good and bad, of the previous. As we do this, our natural tendency is to put our failures behind us and try to focus on the positives. Though it will never do to dwell on our failures, we must remember that these experiences had a significant role in shaping who we are today. To neglect them completely places us in a situation where we are looking to the future with only half of our perspective.

The Japanese practice the art of repairing broken pottery called Kintsugi. As we know, when porcelain pottery breaks, gluing the shards back together always leaves traces of where the pottery was once broken no matter how carefully or expertly it is mended. Rather than focusing on concealing where the pottery broke, the art of Kintsugi accents and highlights those places by mixing valuable gold and silver into the mending lacquer. The brokenness is thus celebrated, giving the original piece unique character as well as financial value due to the added precious metals.

Our experiences are like this. The truth is that we will never forget the negative experiences nor should we hope to. As we mend, the precious lessons and character we develop are our best allies in our future endeavors. It is indeed in the moment of victory that we are able to finally comprehend how necessary our past failures were, as well as our past victories, to shape the person we become – the person with the unique qualities needed to surmount our current obstacles. It is in that moment that we finally appreciate the gold and silver lacqured finish to our brokenness repaired. This is redemption defined.

I close with this very appropriate quote from comedian Conan O’Brien as he addressed the graduating class of 2000 at Harvard University. “I’ve had a lot of success. I’ve had a lot of failure. I’ve looked good. I’ve looked bad. I’ve been praised. And I’ve been criticized. But my mistakes have been necessary. I’ve dwelled on my failures today because, as graduates of Harvard, your biggest liability is your need to succeed, your need to always find yourself on the sweet side of the bell curve. Success is a lot like a bright white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it, but then you’re desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it.” (Conan O’Brien)

My hope for you is that in 2016, you will experience a victory that redeems the challenges you have faced in years previous. Happy New Year from the entire PolishedResume Team!

If You Create the Perfect Resume, You Are 0.00025% of The Way to Finding a Great Job

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how to write a resume

Suppose you were required to complete three equally important projects, how would you divide your time among the three? What if, after completing the project, you were required to give a one minute presentation for one project, a three day seminar for the second, and a nine month study for the third? Does this added condition affect your answer at all? Since all are important, the exact distribution of effort will depend on many other factors, but certainly it would be unusual to choose to invest most of the time only one project, especially not the project which you are required to present for only one minute.

Yet, when it comes to the job search, I am continually surprised that this is exactly what many people do. In general, the job search consists of three main activities:
1) Creating a compelling resume
2) Defining a job search strategy
3) Planning an interview strategy
Prospective employers, on average spend about thirty seconds to one minute on each resume they receive. Candidates spend roughly one day to three days in the interview process before being offered a job. A healthy job search process can require around nine months before finding an opportunity that is a mutual match of interests between the employer and candidate. Yet, many clients I have worked with spend an admirable amount of time crafting their resume, but really haven’t thought about their job search nor interview strategy.

A good resume, a good first impression

This is not to say that a powerful and well-constructed resume is not important. The resume, for most situations, is the first impression any prospective employer generates on a candidate. It’s important to ensure that the resume is crafted carefully to allow readers to understand the unique skills and perspectives you can bring to an organization. But let’s face it, in the internet age, your carefully constructed, well balanced resume is not necessarily the version a prospective employer may see. Many companies use their own recruiting tools that require you to reformat your information to conform with the fields in their online form. Some tools available for employers will extract only the text content and lose all the wonderful formatting and attention to layout you put together. Many employers are thus conditioned to overlook certain aesthetic detail and focus on key details that they believe will allow a candidate to succeed in the role.

The job search strategy is your battle plan

No matter how great a military force is, no general would engage a battle without having a very well thought out battle plan. In the job search world, your battle plan is your job search strategy. I am always surprised by how few people think about this. Often, people rely on techniques that have worked for them in the past or on advice they may have heard. These are all reasonable tactics to employ, but it does not replace a sound strategy. A healthy strategy should consider these three factors:

1) What you are looking for in a job? What are negotiable factors?
2) What timeframe you are looking to make a change?
3) What resources do you have available to conduct your search?

Most importantly, these three factors must be evaluated against each other to determine whether you have assembled a winning strategy. For example, an individual trying to find a comparable role to his/her existing role, who needs to find a job immediately, probably should make use of as many resources as possible to conduct his/her search. The point is that you need to be realistic as to whether your battle plan can realistically meet your expectations.

The interview is your opportunity to shine

What disappoints me most often is when candidates use the interview as a time to reiterate what they wrote on their resume. The point of the interview is for the prospective employer to find out about all those great things that really cannot be captured on a resume. For you to do this well, it requires a significant amount of introspection. This will require you to really think about your passions and what unique qualities will set you apart from other candidates – and of course, are relevant to the job. Don’t panic! We all have great qualities. Think about your past experiences and what situations felt very rewarding to you. Also think about moments where you achieved significant success. Think about what was going on for you internally in those days and it may give you a peek at how your own gears work.

A great resume is like a great wine

So invest your time in a great resume, but keep in mind – just like a good food pairing enhances a good wine, pairing your great resume with a great job search and interview strategy will give you an edge on your search and make the process more rewarding.

10 Questions You Should Be Prepared to Ask the Interviewer

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An important point many people tend to miss is that the interview is not just an opportunity for a company to get to know you. It’s also an opportunity for you to get to know the company you could be working for. So yes, you are interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you. When a candidate does not ask meaningful questions to the interviewer, it may not necessarily cause a bad impression and the candidate may still land a great job. On the other hand, I have met many great candidates that accepted really great roles but became quickly dissatisfied because what the job turned out to be did not match what they imagined it to be. Like making any important investment, you want to make sure you perform due diligence on researching the role. Asking meaningful questions at the interview is a powerful weapon in this regard.

Here are some examples of good interview questions to ask your interviewer or hiring manager:

1) What would a successful candidate accomplish in the first 90 days?
This question is very useful to figure out what the hiring manager’s immediate needs are. For most jobs, the first 90 days can be very difficult to produce substantial results on mission critical projects. The response to this question will therefore also give you indications on how capable your hiring manager is on growing and developing an organization.

2) What’s one thing you wish you could change about your organization?
Does your hiring manager have a pulse on continual growth and improvement? No organization is perfect and the passions and focus of your hiring manager can be revealed in discussing this question. If your hiring manager cannot think of anything he/she would change, it could indicate that he/she is very removed from the details of the day-to-day. This is not a favorable situation to you coming into the organization new and it is certainly something you would want to know before considering a job.

3) What keeps you up at night with respect to your business?
Companies develop their own culture. Certain elements make the company very successful with the way the industry expects the company to operate. Other elements make the company vulnerable. A seasoned hiring manager should be able to offer insight and a glimpse of the culture at that company.

4) Can you give me an example of how has your boss helped you in your career?
The success of a manager is not only measured by how he/she manages the team. It is also important for the manager to effectively influence their peers and management. If your hiring manager cannot provide specific and clear examples, then it can indicate that the organization may have some significant communication and collaboration issues. It can also indicate that your hiring manager may have some severe management weak points when it comes to working with his/her peers.

5) In your team, what quality or skill have you found to be the most reliable predictor of success for team members?
An executive I worked closely with once stated that managers tend to hire people who have similar qualities to themselves and further, that managers will tend to also promote and reward those who have similar qualities as themselves. Accordingly, the response to this question may help you understand qualities your hiring manager values in him/herself. It will certainly give you an indication of what quality you are expected to have if you want to succeed at the organization.

6) What problem needs to be solved that you are looking for candidates for the position I am interviewing for?
All positions in a company are opened to solve specific problems. The problems could be short term or long term, but there certainly is a reason. Further, there’s a reason why the company is looking for external candidates rather than promoting from within the organization. It would be wise for you to have a pulse on these reasons, since you would be bound to the same culture once you join a company.

7) What do you think would be my biggest challenge in this role?
This question is slightly different than asking what accomplishments your hiring manager expects of you. This question asks the hiring manager to consider the culture and situation at the organization and make an assessment of some of the more difficult aspects of the job.

8) What makes you most excited about your job?
The financial compensation at any company is never enough to keep a person there. It can be very helpful for you to know what makes your hiring manager excited about his/her job. It will also help you understand what he/she will focus on maintaining at the company. I once spoke with a human resource manager who vowed that while he works at the company, there will always be free bottled water and soft drinks. He may have said that with some humor in mind, but it was true that no matter what sort of cost cutting needed to occur at that company, the free beverage service never went away.

9) Why did you choose to work for this company?
The response to this question can potentially really broaden your perspective. Your hiring manager was also in a similar position as yourself. Whether he/she was happy in his/her previous company, there was some compelling reason that drew him/her to this company. That reason may be something you never thought about. In fact, your hiring manager also can tell you if the hunch he/she had about the company proved to be true now that he/she is working there.

10) What do you believe your organization’s advantage is over the competitors?
Whether a company is leading the industry or trailing it, there must be something about the company that leads people to be believe they have a fighting chance. How well your hiring manager is in tune with that can reveal a bit about the organization. It can also provide insight to you whether those items are things that get you excited, as well.

We hope these questions helped you to shape how you approach the interview process. Let us know interesting interview questions you have asked and how it helped you decide on a position.