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Job-hunting Lessons from Hillary

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All it takes is being better at being yourself.

Martha Pease had a great opinion piece in CNN last week about Hillary’s blown marketing opportunity with the rollout of her book. Martha is the CEO of DemandWerks.com, a very “with it” marketing organization. Job-seekers can learn some powerful job-hunting lessons from both Hillary and Martha. What I found of most interest was the comment, “She is amazingly qualified but risks being a brand failure.” Whether you agree with Martha’s quality assessment or not, in job-hunting speak it means, “Getting the job is not the same as doing the job.”

“Getting the job is not the same as doing the job.”

Much of my day job is training hiring managers and recruiters alike how to put first impressions in the parking lot until the end of the interview and how to measure performance and ability first. Despite the training, presentation and personality always emerge during the first few minutes of the first get-together with the candidate to mess things up. The video explains one of the techniques we urge interviewers to follow to minimize the impact of first impressions. Candidates should reverse engineer the technique to better understand the problem and begin developing some countermeasures.

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a Bill to come to your rescue, you’ll have to overcome any lack of presentation or personality skills on your own. For some insight on the importance of this check out this article Pease referred to, Connect, Then Lead, by Amy J.C. Cuddy. Cuddy’s big point is that leaders need to first display warmth before they can demonstrate competency. This is what doomed Romney. On the other hand, warmth without competency always results in a bad hire. Consider Obama (at least if you’re objective) for an example of this error. For those who are less objective, consider anyone you’ve met or hired who makes a great presentation but underperforms as a personal example of what happens when the assessment is based on presentation rather than competency.

My goal here is not to score political points, but to suggest that being agreeable, affable, professional in appearance and communicative are important aspects of getting a job. So is being prepared and on time, having a good handshake and making direct eye contact. This is hard to do if you’re not blessed with the “right” personality and perfect appearance or are prone to get nervous at the beginning of the interview. However, if you are qualified there are some things you can do to improve your odds. Following are some tips I give to my candidates who need do to improve their marketing brand or presence. (Here’s a dozen more.)

  1. Request a performance-based phone screen. Before agreeing to an onsite interview ask to speak to the hiring manager about some of the critical performance objectives of the job. With these in hand describe some of your accomplishments that best compare to what needs to be done. If you’re invited in for an onsite meeting as a result, the hiring manger will more naturally focus on better understanding these accomplishments rather than your presentation skills.
  2. Control the interview at the start by asking forced-choice questions. Asking questions switches the spotlight to the interviewer. Good questions will brand you as assertive, confident and insightful. Ask the interviewer to describe some of the problems that need to be addressed in the job and some of the specific skills required. Then give detailed examples of your accomplishments using the skills. (Here’s the online preparation guide for this step.)
  3. Be prepared – including practicing being nervous. Have your spouse, parents, friends, kids or co-workers ask you a bunch of serious and dumb questions. Once you start responding, you’ll discover that any nervousness dissipates quickly. Knowing this will increase your confidence and warmth during an actual interview. You’ll need to prepare some relevant and stock questions you can rattle off once the interview begins which will help control the jitters. Then you’ll need to provide meaningful answers using the SAFW two-minute response if you want to demonstrate you’re actually capable of doing the work.
  4. Update your LinkedIn profile with substance, not skills or superficialities. Recruiters will only spend 10-20 seconds looking at your profile. To decide if they should read further, they’ll glance at the first line under your name, your title and company, and the first two bullet points in your summary. It’s best if these describe a major accomplishment emphasizing a core skill. For example, “Used Python/Ruby to develop the first mobile app for tracking sales commissions,” will get more notice than the skills or accomplishment alone.

Understanding what needs to be done in the job is the first step in proving you’re “amazingly” or more realistically “perfectly” qualified. This is true whether you’re already a brand success or not. More important though, in the process of asking questions about the job and giving examples of your accomplishments, you’re demonstrating that your current communication and presentation skills are exactly what the company needs. All it takes is being better at being yourself.

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Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He’s also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn’s Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.

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