Should we answer job interview questions just because we’re asked?
I thought it might be a cool plan to make a little pocket money on the side (blogs like this don’t pay a lot, no matter how popular they may be). So, a few weeks ago, I searched around Craigslist for a part time gig. Sure enough I got a response to my application for a virtual part time assistant (15 hours a week, schedules, phones, travel plans, and such like – no benefits) and the business owner and I set up a time to speak.
It started to get weird right after that.
My first call was an intro. I suppose to find out whether I actually could form an English sentence. We set up an actual “interview” call for about 10 days later. The time came to speak and though I was not instructed to, I sent a confirmation email. I got no reply but called anyway on schedule to find that the gentleman had blown me off for a more important appointment without letting me know. He didn’t apologize, assuming that I should understand or at least play along and only asked me to reschedule. I was miffed and said so. After all, I arranged my schedule to be available during that time slot and made it clear that I was at my desk, ready to work.
Only slightly apologetic, he scheduled the next call. By now, about 2 weeks had passed since my first communication with this man. You might be wondering – and rightly so – why I was still interested. The interviewer suggested use of some of my other talents and I thought the job was a good match for my current needs.
The call went well enough for him to ask me to go further and take a Kolbe Index test online. “Only a handful of candidates are asked to go this far in the interview process,” he said. This test measures your natural instincts and “allows you to begin the process of maximizing your potential.” The rationale for the test was that this was the first and very important hire of its kind at this firm. This was actually a way for him to know what motivates me far more than for me to know anything about myself.
Ok, I took the test. A 36 question ten minute sort of fun and interesting exercise with instant results I could see but none of which was news. I guess it’s important at this point to interject that I am not a recent graduate nor a first time test taker. I’d even been told by this prospective employer that were I to be considered a serious candidate I would be asked/required to do this. Because I wanted the job enough, I actually took the sample test in advance on my own.
The follow up call came about a week later. This time my employer guy emailed me on a weekend to ask if we could speak Monday but, after I responded, never followed up with a set time. At least he was consistently unreliable.
By the time the next phase of this protracted process happened, I had enough reason to be concerned that somehow the shape of things was pretty skewed. At the start, I asked about the agenda for this third call, thinking there was an awful lot of time and energy going into qualifying candidates for this part time position. It was then that things got super strange. Under the guise of “really knowing the people I work with”, my interviewer friend would be asking me questions about my family and my finances.
STOP! I thought. Really? Not just unconventional but illegal. Maintaining my control of the situation, I chose not to answer. He then said I put him on the defensive whenever we spoke so he thought it was best to discontinue and I agreed.
The moral of the story is this: the job market is rebounding but not as fast as some of us would like. Sometimes, opportunities appear to be perfect fits on paper and when the human factor is added to the equation things inevitably change. We part timers or even full timers aren’t obliged to tell anyone anything that treads on unacceptable ground. In this case, the source wasn’t even verifiable though I had the man’s business email, web address and several phone numbers. Truth was, I never met him face to face and whenever we spoke, he answered his phone “hello”. There was never any switchboard or business-like answering service.
I am sorry there was no job offer at the end of this long, drawn out and somewhat awkward few weeks. Yet, I do have the comfort of knowing that there isn’t a Craigslist stranger out there with my personal, family and financial information at his disposal.
Post Script: Ironically, the hiring company specializes in stress-reduction work techniques.
Charles Michael Austin, Ed.D. (“Dr. Chaz”) is President at Dr. Charles Michael Austin. He is a Career Mentor, College Professor & Curriculum Designer at various colleges and universities in Southern California.
How important in the roster of leadership qualities are attitude, habit and discipline? What weight would you assign them?
I assume discipline is present – in any professional. And certainly in a leader. Habit can – and usually does – have a downside. As in, “that’s the way we do things around here.” Attitude is the key. Are you open to new ideas? Can you make course corrections as needed? Can you give credit to a subordinate for something you didn’t think of? Can you get your own ego out of the way? We’ve probably all had bosses who’ve said to us, “My door is always open.” Going for the bait, we’ve gone in to pitch a new idea, only to leave the office like a flat tire because of the boss/leader’s needed to dominate.
What others, in your opinion, are coveted qualities of business leaders?
A. The ability to shut up and listen. B. Making the people that report to you feel valued for their contributions. C. Being crystal clear about what you want – and by when you want it. D. Perspective. Except for hospital emergency rooms, no one is going to die if a deadline is missed. But so many leaders behave as if it’s always a life and death situation. It’s not. If you can lighten up, it goes a long way towards making those who report to you feel safe. People are more likely to take risks if they feel safe. E. Allowing people to fail. If you’ve hired good people and let them do their jobs, they will occasionally screw up. There is no need to berate them. You’re not their mom/dad and they’re not your “bad” child. They’ll learn from their mistakes and probably not repeat them.
Do you think there is finally equality between men and women in the work place?
No. Things have improved, but we need to be continually vigilant. Sometimes it feels like the Womens’ Movement never happened. Look at the ongoing popularity of “laddie magazines.” We’ve reverted to objectifying women, and that sort of attitude no doubt spills over into the workplace. As Erma Bombeck said, “We’ve got a generation now who were born with semi-equality. They don’t know how it was before, so they think, this isn’t too bad. We’re working. We have our attache cases and our three piece suits. I get very disgusted with the younger generation of women. We had a torch to pass, and they are just sitting there. They don’t realize it can be taken away. Things are going to have to get worse before they join in fighting the battle.”
When most companies are tightening their belts and employees are not shaking things up, how much does risk taking (challenging the corporate orthodoxy) play a part in your advice for executives seeking to stand out in a corporation?
My advice is: don’t. Companies say they want “outside the box” thinking, but in practice they don’t. You want to take risks, start your own company.
Brevity is becoming a communications fact of life. When is brevity not such a good idea? When it replaces genuine communication. Human beings are inclined to avoid confrontation. A quick tweet or text or email helps us dodge the uncomfortable face-to-face meeting where bad news needs to be conveyed. I think one of the things that has helped make me successful is that confrontation is one of my hobbies. I’ve always found that being direct with people deepens relationships. Not direct as in “you’re bad and wrong, and here’s why,” which is verbal vomiting that disempowers people. I’m talking about collaborative communication whose context is “what worked/what didn’t.” That takes it away from the personal attack, shifting the focus to problem solving.
You are a specialist in career development. What are the differences between setting a career path in your twenties and in your forties or even fifties?
Presumably, by the time you’ve hit forty, you’ve gained some wisdom and developed some sense of what your talents are and where and how you can make a contribution to others. My clients and students who are in their twenties very seldom have a career path. They may have a passion (or so they think), and my advice to them is to get to work in some capacity in their field of choice to learn where and how they fit.
The meta-conversation, though, is that most people do things in their careers that they never would have imagined in their twenties; that career choices are usually unplanned accidents or matters of serendipity. If someone would have told me in my twenties that I’d hold a Doctorate in Education and (among other things) be a college professor, I would have told them that they were crazy and that that would never, never happen. You need to be open to the unexpected.
What is one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?
Ego. “I’m the boss. I know best.”
Your Ed.D. dissertation discusses the inherent value of career coursework in higher education. What is your summary finding on planning for a career when college is often a place to “find ourselves”?
That’s both the subject of my dissertation and my book (to be published later this year). Having some career direction by the time you graduate is part of finding ourselves. Unless you’re a trust fund baby, you’ll need to make money after you graduate (if only to start paying off your student loans). There’s enormous pressure on college students (from their parents, usually) to find “the perfect job,” and so many students have no clue what that might be – or even what they want to do. So, just get to work. If it’s not what you (think you) love, then at least have it be something you’d like to do. Get started. Meet people. Learn things. Trust that you’ll find your way – and eventually discover you passion(s). That’s plural because most people in their twenties can expect to have five or six careers. So even if you do find “the perfect job,” there will most likely be others during your lifetime.
What expectation is realistic when it comes to setting today’s career path?
Corporate loyalty is dead. Everyone is a freelancer, and their own brand. People need to be trained to determine, articulate and sell that brand – for as long as they work. The sooner they start doing that, the better their chances of continuing to find work that’s satisfying – both creatively and financially.
The triggering event, of course, is the advent of a global communication
system that restores the banter of the bazaar,
that tears down power structures and senseless bureaucracies,
that puts everyone in touch with everyone.
From The Forward to the Cluetrain Manifesto By Thomas Petzinger, Jr., The Wall Street JournalAuthor of The New Pioneers
Quotient or DNA? That’s the question. If you have a Digital Quotient, you’ve learned most of your way through Microsoft Office, AOL, Hotmail or some other free email service and more than likely have your “tech guy” on speed dial. If you have Digital DNA, you probably had a MAC before Apple was chic, must have the latest gear and don’t need to flaunt it (you buy the plain black skin for it without a logo) and you can’t wait to get your sticky little fingers (from late night Twinkies, of course) on any new apps, programs, code, inside news, gossip AND your hacker’s on speed dial.
Somewhere in between is where I am. I had the first Apple laptop back in the early 1990’s, my favorite people are geeks and the digital references I make are over most people’s heads. Ok, so now that we’ve established that, there’s the matter of the digital divide. Still here and still thriving. I was around for the commercialization of the Internet and a thing called the “Cluetrain Manifesto“, written in 1999. That document was created, among other reasons, to inform marketers and advertisers that people using the Internet don’t want to be sold to. In short, as Thomas Petzinger, Jr., The Wall Street Journal put it, “an obituary of business as usual. ” And I quote:
The idea that business, at bottom, is fundamentally human.
That engineering remains second-rate without aesthetics. That natural, human conversation is the true language of commerce.
That corporations work best when the people on the inside have the fullest contact possible with the people on the outside.
Fade out. Fade in. It’s the 2011, Ad Age Digital Conference here in New York City and the same principle applies. The conference is sold out and yet, the Keynote and other speakers, pretty much reiterate the same idea that those guys did. The difference is that marketers have to have their backs, or bucks, against the wall before they get the message.
This year’s conference was mostly about this. About staying out of the consumer’s way. About NOT selling but joining. About being a buddy (as in Media Buddy) and not a bully. About EXpression, not IMpression. The market place is changing so rapidly that we marketers and advertisers can’t consume the information about this change fast enough. As a sidebar, the year one Ad Age Digital conference had no sponsorship dollars at all. Now in only five years time, there are more than twenty. Presentations were delivered by such important companies as Google, Electronic Arts, Samsung, Lexus, Best Buy, Converse, Dell and more.
Aren’t We Always Rethinking Advertising? First there were cave walls. Fast forward to print, radio, TV, satellite, digital etc etc. Each one of these innovations brings a retrench. Most professional marketers know this and still, there’s a lot of time and money spent measuring past results to predict future ones.
Social Activity (like communities, polls, Q&A, notifications, status, comments, games, group buying, virtual currency, social missions, social goods, check ins and the rest) is the largest consumption of time spent on the Internet today. To get marketers in the stream of activity means leaning forward like your customers are. This is activity, Folks, not media. Before activity was outside of advertising, now a marketer can leverage activity in the mainstream to have contact with 100 million people on a monthly basis to, say, help consumers build a virtual city.
Brand Lift Is The New Holy Grail.
Though corporations insist on seeing it as one,
the new marketplace is not necessarily a market at all.
To its inhabitants, it is primarily a place in which all
participants are audience to each other.
The entertainment is not packaged; it is intrinsic. From Introduction to the Cluetrain Manifesto by Chrsotpher Locke
If you aren’t hip to this, sorry, but you’re already behind the eight ball. That is to say, if you’re still looking at click through rates as a measurement, forget it. If you’re still living in a world of display-click-impressions-banner ad next to content, the digital ecosystem has shifted to the next gear, the new way in which consumers view the brand. The flailing that research was doing while the ship was turning from past performance to real time left a lot of people, technological innovation and creative ideation mistakenly in its wake. Now, the tools for this have gotten a lot more sophisticated in a very short time. Companies like Point Roll and AppsSavvy would like to help you optimize your exposure. Marketers who are finally asking the right questions (not how big they are on ComScore and Nielsen and how many pages they have) but instead, “what are PEOPLE doing”, have a shot.
Friendster, Napster, MySpace, Facebook. What do they all have in common? The answer is freedom. Each in its time carved a space for open discussion and sharing of ideas (creative branding or otherwise) Free space for anyone and anything to be highly energized by access and information like never before. In the old days, I was part of the Southern California (405) Group Listserve (remember those?) where a bunch of geeks, who rarely met face to face, discussed the Internet and problem solved collaboratively. It was not unusual for an entire thread to go on for weeks including barbs, open insults, challenges, put downs, throw downs and a ton of really cool information. These were developers, inventors, code writers, thinkers, hackers and pioneers. One day a guy looking a lot like a Hells Angel rode his bike into our offices on Main Street in Venice (CA). We’d been talking to him virtually for months, but had no idea who he was standing there. He announced he was from Digital Vegas. We could never figure out how he got that Harley up to the third floor. But, I digress. The point is, no one was paying much attention except the other guys doing the same things. There was no regulation since no one but the government and educators even knew Arpanet was there. And certainly no one was trying to sell us stuff.
The Internet is inherently irreverent and anarchistic and therefore resists any attempt to wrangle or rope it in. It’s also a chance for people who would otherwise not meet to laugh and play and share trade secrets, whether the trade is Mommy-hood, bikers, hairdressers, dog lovers, cat lovers or just plain long-distance lovers.
The “C” or Connected generation, as Alex Tosolini, VP, Global e-Business at P&G, likes to call it, may or may not make way for today’s C-Suite Chief Data Scientist. When the advertiser insinuates himself into the conversation with waving banner ads and interstitials, the mob moves elsewhere. Social activity , the largest activity on the Web today, is, and I repeat, NOT media! Branding before this phenom was OUTside activity, now it’s INside. In effect, the herd will be heard whether marketers like it or not. It seems to have taken an entire decade and then some for marketers to realize this and having done so, loosen their grip. Like Double Click in the 1990’s with display, Tremor and other video networks and AdMob with mobile, companies like AppsSavvy, represented here, would like to help marketers brand around social activities and do it at scale.
“Everything That’s Static Will Become Dynamic.”
Words spoken by Wendy Clark, SVP-Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities at Coke. Of those most likely to win the respect of the mob, is Coca Cola, the world’s largest beverage company. Which is why, Ms. Clark refers to Coke’s digital strategy as “liquid and linked”. And that’s not just lingo. It’s Coke’s take on brand storytelling
Ms. Clark rips up the stage in a blinged-out Coke T-shirt lauding the virtues of the hundreds of opportunities to join in and be a partner in “distributed creativity” on a “continuum of connections”. Brands can no longer pay their way to greatness, she warned. Media isn’t categorized by the outlet you plug it into anymore, its either paid, earned, owned or shared, she said. Coke has actually become the poster child for doing it right and the online world has chosen to anoint them with a following.
The key, of course, is not some play on words or metaphor for a marketing strategy. It is the living breathing fact that Coke has given up control in the traditional marketing sense and taken the lead from it’s lovable fan base deferring to their voice, and not imposing on them Coke’s decades old sales strategy. Because of this, nearly 24.5 million people like Coke’s Facebook page, the largest page on the site. I guess when you serve 3 billion Coca Cola products worldwide every day, that doesn’t seem like such a big number. Yet, giving the ax to business-as-usual at a company this big, Ms. Clark had a lot to do when, in 2008, she moved over from AT&T. Coke didn’t start out with Digital DNA but, with Wendy Clark’s help, they sure did get IT along the way.
In 2008, UniLever discovered 50 representatives of the social online ecosystem (AKA Greenpeace) dressed as orangutans staging a protest outside their London Headquarters to highlight the destruction of the Indonesian rainforest. The protest forged a relationship between the two organizations with Unilever agreeing to address many of Greenpeace’s concerns. Unilever may not have started out life with Social Media DNA but they sure got religion fast.
Think Like a Start Up. Act Like a Hacker.
The Net grew and prospered largely because it was ignored.
It worked by different rules than the rules of business.
Market penetration wasn’t interesting because there was no market —
unless it was a market for new ideas. The Cluetrain Manifesto – Chapter One, Internet Apocolypso
Massive disruptive change is a marketers worst nightmare. Just as Geoffrey Moore, head of the Chasm Group and author of Crossing The Chasmabout technology adoption lifecycle, points out, “the marketer should focus on one group of customers at a time, using each group as a base for marketing to the next group.” The gap between them IS the chasm for disruptive or discontinuous innovations which force a significant change of behavior by the customer. In layman’s terms, climbing on the shoulders of early adopters is where the smart money is.
FaceBook, like other successful marketing plans that came before it,envisioned a need and filled it.Like is important, butShare is more important. Adopting a start up strategy may not get you where it got Mark Zuckerberg, but it might get you out of the dark or worse, the Dark Ages. Build a virtual startup within your organization to imitate what it was like when everyone was bootstrapping and no one was watching. Teams of geniuses were liberated from the matrix and finding the next thing rather than protecting the old. The team not connected to the parent, innovates, iterates rapidly on its own and builds on user experience, skills, talent, not titles. Android, a Google offshoot, while in the search business, was simultaneouslyfree from the core and faithful to Google’s devices. Today, it’s the next BIG thing.
To Ride The Trend Wave- Make it Low Cost Launch and Learn Take the Best Ideas From Everyone Else Fast Is Better Than Perfect
VOCAB OF THE MODERN MARKETPLACE
Apple Generation, C-generation,
Social Online Ecosystem, Lean in, Honor the Community,
Passion Points, Connections Are The New Impressions,
Facilitate Commerce, Hardworking Media,
Networked Consumption, A Lense on Social Media,
Listenomics, Digital Skin, Digital Cocktailing,
Start Up Envy, Native (to a medium), Path to Purchase,
Continuum of Connections, Distributed Creativity
Texting. The New Pink Slip?
Last week a friend of mine, let’s call her Sheila, had a small gig for a few days at a skin care salon. The business owner was looking desperately for someone to handle the phone and appointment book at the salon and Sheila was seeking full time employment. It seemed like a marriage made in heaven.
Admittedly, front office work hasn’t been the focus of her career to date. Sheila, otherwise known as a “big idea” person, is heavy into strategy and business development. This salon job was a hyper-detail-multi-tasking balancing act a lot like the Chinese Jugglers on the Ed Sullivan Show back in the 1960’s. So, while the learning curve was fairly steep, Sheila proceeded through the week thinking everyone wanted her to succeed after a long dry period of failure to find the “right person”. Ultimately, though, it didn’t work out and by the third day, Sheila would be asked to move along…for reasons we now refer to in the civilized world as “a bad fit”. OK, well, these things happen.
Unfortunately, the surrounding details of this dismissal are the truly sad ones. As the story goes, at the end of the week, Sheila went to her boss, the business owner, and asked how the owner felt the few days went with Sheila at the front desk. She, herself, knew there were things to learn and some corrections to make. The boss confirmed that suspicion and added that these moments of uncertainty are part of a new job with a lot of moving parts. Seeking clarification, Sheila then asked the boss for specifics. Her job responsibilities, as first explained, were very different from what she was now told. Leaving with this handful of helpful criticisms, Sheila expressed her appreciation for the feedback and promised to incorporate these changes from then on.
On her way home, Sheila suspected that there was more going on than may have been relayed by her boss. Her plans for the following week, made long before she knew she would be working from 10 to 7, Tuesday through Saturday, would have to be postponed or canceled. My friend was quick to text (the boss’s device of choice) her boss that this job was her most important priority. She was prepared, she explained, to cancel these long-standing plans to show up as expected the following week.
What came back was a shock. “Don’t bother,” texted the boss. “I’ve already got someone to replace you.”
Sheila was dumbstruck. Sure, there were signs that adjustments were in order but “don’t come back,” was not what she expected. After all, isn’t it natural to take time to learn a new job? Even the boss, herself, proclaimed there was a lot to know and it all took time to learn. What was going on? Why? and Why by text message?
When I told this story to a psychologist friend of mine, she explained the passive aggressive nature of the boss’s behavior. It turned out that money was missing from Sheila’s weekly check. When she caught it, the boss covered the omission telling Sheila that she hadn’t actually spent a full first day at the salon. Not true. Plus, Sheila’s salary was meant to be calculated weekly, not hourly. The way it was explained by my psychologist friend was that the boss was unsatisfied to a much greater extent than she was willing to say, so she shorted the paycheck instead.
Then, as the story goes, once the salon owner was asked for specifics, she simply dismissed Sheila. Apparently, something she couldn’t or wouldn’t do an hour earlier when Sheila was standing right in front of her. Sheila was on borrowed time and would be replaced in a matter of days with someone new. True, she might have gotten a few more days pay out of the situation had Sheila said nothing, but that icky feeling everybody knows something about you but YOU, isn’t conducive to a sense of comfort, let alone security, in any situation.
If You Are In A Similar Situation, What Can You do? (1) Assume nothing and (2) preserve your integrity! The fact is that every boss is covering his or her own ass whether they are a business owner or not. We are all on probation and a need-to-know basis for at least two weeks (and sometimes even two months), unless the boss is your father, and even then…Regardless of the other person’s ineptness, you can still walk away knowing YOU did the next right thing. My psychologist friend advises that you want to leave every situation in a way that allows a future encounter to be civilized, at the very least. We never know when and how we may have to or want to see or speak to that person again. In a longer-term engagement that could end abruptly, we may still want a reference from the employer or business owner. We may have colleagues or friends in common who the story could get back to.
It’s important to be a lady or a gentleman no matter how off the hook bosses or anybody, for that matter, act. We, first and foremost, want to walk away from any situation with assurance that we handled it in the most civilized and courteous way. My psychologist friend suggested we go so far as to thank the boss for the time and energy he or she put into the test run. At first, this may sound outrageous but in life, lots of things seem ridiculous at first, but we’re glad we conducted ourselves with integrity when the new day dawns.
As for the text message element of this story, our human communications have, after all, been reduced to a tweet of 140 characters or less. Wedding announcements, births, deaths, divorces, child custody battles, TV show cancellations, even civil wars are now a matter of how many people are following you, not how honestly or well you handle yourself. So what do we expect when someone has bad news to deliver about a job? We are all hiding behind technology at this point. Either because we are multi-tasking and someone gets the short-shrift (remember the Seinfeld cell phone face off?) or we don’t feel like putting the time in to be cordial or politically correct. Or worst of all, we just don’t care anymore. What would The Donald say?
Hank Fieger, President of international management consulting, training and coaching firm, HFA, based in Barcelona, Spain, has worked with many Fortune 100 companies in over 20 countries. His expertise is in Behavioral Executive Coaching, Team Building, Executive Presentation Skills and Leadership Communication Skills. Using a model of open and honest communication, Hank combines his knowledge of business and psychology to help others embody “people management” skills in leadership roles. Hank’s first book, “Behavior Change…A View From The Inside Out”, a handbook on the art of change, is available on Amazon.
Q&A (unedited) On Leadership
If you had to name three characteristics of great leaders what would they be?
They have a clear vision for what’s possible.
They have the ability to communicate that vision to the hearts and minds of their followers.
They are in tune with what people are wanting.
As organizations get larger there’s often a tendency toward dampening inspiration. How do you encourage creative thinking within your or your clients’ organizations?
I encourage creative thinking by reconnecting people to their core values? By understanding what is most important to them, they begin to see what’s possible.
In order of importance or weight, what do you feel is most important: mission, vision or core values?
I think core values are most important, followed by a vision. The mission is the working statement that captures the values and the vision.
How do leaders ensure their organizations activities are aligned with their own core values?
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
What is corporate culture and how is it crafted?
Corporate culture is the unspoken, and sometimes spoken rules about how things are done here. It’s crafted usually from the key individuals at the top of the corporation.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
I think that every true leader has a bit of a revolutionary in them. Most people resist change, and yet what leaders need to do is to help people and organizations to change and adapt to what is needed in order to be sustainable.
What is one mistake you see leaders making more frequently than others? In your opinion, is it different for women leaders?
The one mistake I see is that leaders sometimes make decisions that they think will keep them in the role and keep them having power. I think that women leaders also fall into this trap and sometimes to prove themselves in a “man’s game,” they may even try harder. They also revert back to managing the transactional day to day business, rather than staying focused on the big picture.
What advice would you give someone going into leadership position for the first time?
Is your advice different if that person is a woman?
Be true to yourself and to your values. It’s a privilege to be in a leadership role, so go for it. My advice for a woman is no different. Don’t give your true power away in the attempt to be more like a man, or to succeed in what you may believe to be a man’s world.
What is one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?
To sell out to what they believe people want from them, rather than being true to what is really needed.
In 2009 ExecutiveWomen2.0 was included by Best Universities as 100Top Leadership Blogson the Web