CareerSherpas: Climbing the Mountain

When you’re on the way, it helps to share the load

Archive for the ‘Interviewing Skills’ Category

What is Working on the Search: A Small Vignette

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Peter Fitzgerald is chronicling his process of navigating from losing his job to a new and brighter tomorrow. To read other posts from the series, see “Job Transition: A CareerSherpas’ Odyssey”.

As you can imagine, I’ve been voraciously looking for ideas and guidance to help in the job search. What I’ve been surprised at is how little variation there is in the copious articles, books and videos out there.

Taking my own experience and casting it against the backdrop of all the material I’ve read, this is what has been working and how it compares with common wisdom:

  • “It’s not what you know, it’s who knows you’re looking and interested in your success” – Rather than the adage that “who you know” is the most important, it’s really about connecting with the right person. Knowing someone isn’t enough, you have to actively connect. The thought is summed up nicely by J.T. O’Donnell’s comment that “it’s the physical connecting that gets you hired” in “Is getting a job really about who you know?” by Anthony Balderrama that my wife stumbled across on
  • “Polish your interviewing skills” – No matter how good you have been in the past, practice is important. This seems to be a pretty consistent theme in conventional wisdom dissertations.
  • “Every lead is a good lead” – I haven’t found anybody to really agree directly with me on this, but no matter how odd a lead looks there’s always something positive to learn from it or another connection to be made through it. Opportunity usually only knocks once and you never know when something that looks like a blind alley has a golden door at the other end.
  • “Be flexible and be polite” – You’re the one who’s asking for favors. Even if someone’s working to find you a job, it’s your job to make it easier on them. Make yourself available however, wherever and whenever you can to connect on the other person’s schedule.

That simple? Pretty much.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, looking for a new day job, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

Just Show Up – And Follow Up!

Friday, September 11th, 2009

A common saying in productivity and success writing circles is “Just show up”. This wonderfully uplifting concept presses the point that by arriving, engaging and being where an action happens, the action will happen.

There is plenty of support for this assertion, but sometimes we need to grapple with the idea that someone else might also need to show up for something to happen. So what then?

The answer for me is an easy one: Follow up!

Any time you make a connection with someone you need to follow up. This simple act strengthens your connection, reinforcing that the meeting (and the other person’s time) was valuable to you. Whether it be thanking the person for their time, giving promised information or sharing a thought that occurred to you after you left, your consideration shows that you’re still engaged and ready to reconnect or work together whatever the future holds.

Similarly if you have a missed connection where the other person did not show up, it is important to reinforce that the meeting was important to you and that you value their time. If a meeting happened without someone, following up gives you a chance to re-engage the person and build a rapport. You can also share teasers to build up expectations for the next opportunity to meet. If you were going to be presenting information or offerings it’s easy to send the bulleted high points covered and either the information on the next presentation or the option of asking questions.

The art of the follow up takes a bit of getting used to to make it a natural step, but it’s worth the effort and lets you make a case or build a stronger relationship.

So get out there! Show up – and follow up!

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, conducting high-level business analysis, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

Playing the Recruitment Game

Monday, April 27th, 2009

A recent article from Harvard Business Review presented some very strong ideas on how to improve recruitment efforts by companies. While all the advice is terrific for those on the hiring end, there’s also some useful information for the interviewee looking to find the right fit.

While it’s a tough market out there, avoiding walking into a job you’ll hate is still a worthwhile goal. If you can see trouble coming, it might be worth passing or seeing if your potential employer is flexible enough to adjust and make everyone’s lives easier. And being up front with any potential employer about what will make your work successful in their organization always moves you up in the pack.

So to that end, here are the rejoinders for the interviewee from HBR’s recruitment best practices:

  • How does the position fit into the direction of the company? While this might seem like an obvious question, relatively few people ask it. The answers (or lack thereof) may also surprise you! If the people doing the hiring don’t have very strong ideas of where this position needs to go, you have the advantage of suggesting how the role, with you in it, can help the organization. Don’t be shy to show how you fit into the spot described either!
  • What is in place to support the role? You need to step into the breach with specific capabilities and traits to make the position work, but to be effective your new employer will need to come to the table with the support to get the job done. Remember to ask what they’re looking for from a candidate and what the role has to work with to overcome the challenges you will inevitably face.
  • Understand the size and quality of the talent pool. You’re not usually going to be the only one interviewing for the position, so try to get a sense of who else is swimming alongside you. If you’re working with an outside recruiter you trust it can be easier to get the information, but don’t take the answer at face value. Try to get an idea of where you sit going in and ask what might help.
  • Have stories at the ready. You can’t anticipate every question, but you can prepare answers. Employers hire people to solve problems they’re facing, and being able to describe how you’ve solved similar problems in the past always puts you in a better position. Have broad stories ready and be prepared to narrow your focus to one or two points from them to answer the specifics of the question.
  • Draw out the pros and cons. Sure it’s a great managerial position, but what are you facing when you move into it? If you don’t walk out of the interview knowing what the advantages and challenges are, even if you get the job you might find some surprises that limit your success. If there isn’t a lot of energy around filling the position or the direction of the company, there might be a story you aren’t getting.
  • Find out about the on-boarding process. There are lots of ways to handle new hires and if the company can tell you how it manages new employees you’ll get a picture of how they handle all employees.

In the end, recruitment is a dance between a company’s needs and the people available to fill them. You are as much in control of the kind of world you work in as any employer, so make the most of all of the chances you have to learn about what you’re walking into and presenting yourself in the best light.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, conducting high-level business analysis, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

Honest Signals and Body Language

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

I’ve recently finished Alex “Sandy” Pentland’s Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World, which I found quite difficult to put down once I got into it. Pentland puts his considerable wealth of research into a very consumable and revealing manner. His framework for judging future performance is a very clear and in some ways surprising viewpoint on common problems like groupthink.

Having finished it, I was struck by the comparison with “The Definitive Book of Body Language” by Alan Pease and how much of Pentland’s work supports many of the points Pease has been making for more than three decades. Certainly I have a soft spot for my countryman’s work, but my sense has always been that Pease provides practical tools and understanding on how to interact with people that are lacking elsewhere.

Where Pentland provides a frame of reference for the problems and opportunities available in measuring and understanding body language, Pease gives a practical, step-by-step approach to using body language. Both works have a great deal going for them, but if I were to choose one as the more approachable and immediately useful, I have to recommend “Body Language”.

Want to know how to connect, communicate with and influence someone say in an interview? You’ll learn a thing or two from “Body Language”.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, conducting high-level business analysis, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.