Job Change Advice: How to Convert a Conversation into a Job Offer

Conversing for Job Offer

In other posts, I have explained how to get face-to-face with hiring mangers to increase your chances of getting a job offer sooner…rather than waiting for callbacks to online applications in this hyper-competitive job market.

But…once you get there—what do you say?

The first order of business is to establish rapport, build a positive relationship. How do you do that?

Not by selling yourself; why should they care?

No, by first tapping into their concerns. Get them talking about their needs and priorities.The most effective way to do that is to ask questions…then listen.

Think about it, don’t you appreciate someone taking the time to listen to your problems? Isn’t that the substance of most conversations you enjoy with friends and family?

This is what every successful salesperson learns early in their career when they serving a portfolio of accounts with a relational or solutions-based approach to sales.

There are two kinds of questions to ask during a face-to-face meeting: plus or minus questions. It is usually preferable to start with “safe’ questions on the plus side. Start with their Industry or sector; most managers like to talk about trends and issues in their sector.

Why? Because work—when you think about it—is just activity organized around problems, challenges, issues, or pressures that get in the way of organizational goals and objectives.

If it was easy to achieve those goals, the manager wouldn’t need to hire anybody, they’d do all the work themselves and make more money!

But they can’t, too many problems get in the way of their best laid plans, their most clearly defined goals, their most heartfelt objectives. That manager needs you more than you think!

Remember, your goal in this first meeting is to establish rapport, not get a job offer! This is a necessary step towards getting an offer.

Here are a few conversation starters that give you an idea of the kinds of questions that get a manager talking:

- What is responsible for the positive or innovative trends in the industry? Are they social, political, economic, technological or other kinds of trends?
- What factors are responsible for driving growth in this industry?

As a midlife career changer, the scope and nature of the questions might change depending on who you are talking to and what sector you are talking about. Your own questions might be more focused and refined, appropriate for a specific situation.

Your goal is to get them talking. What you are listening for are clues to change and growth in the sector, two key drivers of job creation and hiring.

Your ultimate purpose during these advice calls is to identify the problems, to see if you want to be the problem-solver!

As rapport develops between you over a conversation, an informational interview, or perhaps 2-3 meetings, you might move to minus questions about the sector in order to identify specific pain points

For example, you might ask, ‘What specific trends affect you? (Markets drying up, hostility toward the industry, cost factors, etc.). But, be careful, because a minus question might imply that the manager is not doing a good jobif you ask a question like, ‘Is your growth fast or slow? Is it typical of the field?’

Managing this kind of approach with a hiring manager requires some skill, even practice. I suggest you try out this approach with somebody who knows you well, someone who is willing to give feedback on the effectiveness of your approach.

Since the stakes are so high, in terms of you getting a job offer, consider working with a job change expert to help you practice your approach. You might need to move deftly from sector questions, to company affairs, then personal priorities of the manager.

Moving back and forth between questions, while being sensitive to individual reactions to your tone and approach, is not rocket science…but it is a skill that must be developed and deployed in an appropriate manner.

Talking Your Way Into a Job

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Jerry (due to the security nature of his job we are not using his real name) came to my office a victim of the high tech bubble burst in 2003 with an interesting problem. He was a middle manager in his middle 40s and didn’t know how to look for a job. He really never had to look for a job in the past. He had a good reputation and as long as things were going well with high tech start-ups, employers were coming to him.

However, things were no longer going well. He had spent most of his career in aerospace and telecom research and development. By time he came to me, he had spent most of his summer sending out resumes without success.

What Jerry needed from me was coaching on how to target companies and tell his story in a compelling manner–concepts that he’d had no reason to think about very much in the past. He also had to learn where he best fit and what kinds of jobs to avoid. He was quite willing to do all three.

The first thing we did was work on “the fit.” The opportunity of “making a killing” was the main draw to his previous jobs. In retrospect, he realizes they were not good situations because he didn’t ask enough questions. He even described his last job as a “toxic work environment.”

What he really needed was an opportunity to use broad organizational and leadership skills to manage technical projects with some high risks and exciting challenges. He also wanted to work with a “reasonably-sized group,” which he defined as “over 10 people.”

Our next step was to have Jerry increase his networking skills so he could make contacts to find his hidden opportunities–positions he would fit that might not even exist. He did this by creating a spreadsheet of 20 target companies, who the principal players were at each company, if he knew any of them and how to contact someone if he didn’t know somebody at the company.

Next he called each company and wrote into the spreadsheet what they talked about, when to check back and how he had left off the conversation.

Then he would meet with me every two to three weeks and go through what he did. If he was called for an interview, we would go through typical questions and the methodology of answering those questions the day before the interview. We also went through a debriefing during our next meeting after each interview.

Most people go into an interview with the assumption the employers know what they’re doing. Employers are just human beings, too, and they’re subject to all kinds of flaws and weaknesses.

So instead of just answering questions, Jerry had to learn to tell “his story” in a compelling way. People think that when they are being interviewed, they are being interviewed for a job vacancy. If they can communicate their value–Here’s what I bring to the table; here’s what I bring to the company–more than a third of the time, the employer will create a job for them.

It certainly worked for Jerry. After two interviews at major defense contractor for a posted vacancy, the senior managers created another job, one that is a perfect fit for him. He’s in charge of the research for designing most of the surveillance equipment used to protect Canada.

Jerry got the job because he had a coach that helped him stay focused on what he really wanted and then Jerry did the work.

Lesson from Las Vegas

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I just got back from Sin City, the one that never sleeps, where all vices are on display and easily procured!

Las Vegas is an oasis in the desert built years ago by the Mob. That’s quite a story in itself (with its own museum and a whole show at one of the casinos on The Strip).

If you’ve been to Vegas, then you know that every major casino/hotel/resort is constructed around some kind of myth or story. The Mirage takes you into the jungle; the Excalibur into medieval England; the Luxor into ancient Egypt; Caesar’s Place into ancient Rome; the Venetian into romantic Italy; Planet Hollywood…well, that’s obvious.

Walking the Strip reminded me how much we are immersed in story 24/7 wherever we are whether we know it or not. Story is the universal glue that holds civilizations together.

I managed to see a show and pull a few slots, but I was there primarily to make several presentations to other career professionals at the annual conference of the Career Management Alliance.

I was delighted to participate in the Storytelling track at the conference. During the opening panel of this track, we were asked : Why does storytelling deserve this much attention for the careers of our clients?

I thought I’d share with you some of the more compelling answers because just one piece of information can sometimes help to solve the puzzle we call life!

Our personal story is a bit like traveling our road to work each day—we stop noticing the details. We are so enmeshed in our life pattern, that we don’t realize that we construct a thread to our life story with each passing day. We are narrative in action. Our story is our identity and our destiny. I focused on the importance of story in assessment : determining where to work and what to do.

All the panelists focused on the importance of living and telling our stories with more clarity and consciousness. Story can lead us out of dark places and into living with greater freedom and fullness of life in our careers.

Are you living the story you want to tell? What are the stories you are telling yourself about yourself? Are you separating facts from feelings? Are you naming your weaknesses and fears? Are you focusing on your strengths?

Telling your story in a compelling manner is not optional in this age of communications crowded with so many stories competing for attention in the job marketplace!

We discussed the importance of crafting and communicating your story in resumes and interviews. A great career story will be a resume differentiator. Storytelling in resumes doesn’t mean you are writing a novel. As a storyteller, we need to think strategically about what to include and what to exclude; we must select stories relevant to the position.

When telling compelling stories at interviews, you will transition from candidate to individual in the eyes of the interviewer. Do you know that old saying, “the devil’s in the details?” The reverse is true in interviews—sharing “the right details” can tip the scales of a hiring decision in your favor.

In both resumes and interviews, it is important to isolate strengths and accomplishments that fit with requirements.

In an interview with one or more interviewers, engage the audience! Don’t forget that storytelling involves an audience. Listen to them. Get them talking about their needs and preferences.

But don’t try to influence the judges. Tell what can be seen with the five senses, or better yet, a camera. Give them a picture of you in action doing things that demonstrate your capacity to perform in the job.

The tools for telling stories for career development and job search might change—e.g. building an online presence through Linked In, or YouTube, and so on—but the basic principles of effective storytelling remain the same. Know your audience. Frame your story for impact. Give examples with details. Leave them hungry for more.

You are a storyteller. You can learn to tell a better story. Keep the end goal in site. Your storytelling will improve with practice, rehearsal, and focus.

Telling a better story is the beginning of living a better story!

When Job Change is not like a Diet

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I recently lost 16 lbs in the space of 6 weeks. We live in a sit down culture
and much of my work is performed in a chair in front of clients and computers.

The middle-age pot belly is an inevitable result for many modern workers.
Because I am not an exercise machine or gym membership or fad diet kind of guy,
I looked for over a year before I finally found a belly fat burning program I
could live with.

I was conscious of the fact that most weight loss programs result in failure,
with a majority of individuals putting the weight back on and then some within
12 months!

I believe this happens because most people approach weight loss as a problem to
be solved : `I want to lose weight but I don’t want to change my lifestyle
habits.’

I meet many individuals who approach their career issues with the same
problem-solving attitude : `I’ve got a job I hate but it pays my bills and
provides a good salary and benefits, so how do I replace my income and benefits
if I quit my job?’

I’ve lost weight and I’ve changed careers, so I can speak personally to both
problems. Like most people, I try to solve a problem in order to avoid negative
consequences. So, when I read recently how excessive belly fat contributes to a
wide range of health issues during middle age and beyond, I decided to lose
weight in order to avoid those problems.

Similarly, many people come to me for career advice on how to avoid the negative
consequences of a bad jobfit. Often, they feel drained by their job, and want
to avoid the inevitable burnout or depression (now the #1 workplace
disability). Or, they have read the economic tea leaves and anticipate a
forthcoming layoff. Or, new technology being introduced into their workplace is
going to change their job duties in a negative way. Or, they don’t like their
boss or the people they work with. Or, their life situation has changed and
they need to move on.

Naturally, negative job conditions foster bad feelings, even intense emotional
conflict . Just by taking the action to visit with me and talk about these
issues can reduce the emotional conflict they feel. In the same way, once
people see they can lose weight by taking some kind of effective action, it
reduces the emotional conflict they feel about their weight issues.

To start the process of losing weight, we can join a gym, or buy a food portion
meal replacement program, or start a diet. Similarly, we can change careers by
going back to school, reconnecting with our LinkedIn network, or writing a
business plan.

However, we are all human beings, and once we experience relief from bad
feelings, our motivation to change weakens and we feel less need to act.

It is very easy to backslide then into old eating habits. Or, it is easier to
go back to the same job or something similar thinking that something fundamental
has changed.

But it hasn’t. If we keep eating the way we have always eaten, we put the
weight back on. If we go back to a job misfit, it’s only a matter of time
before the same issues rear their ugly heads once again.

To keep the weight off, we need to make some real lifestyle changes. To really
change careers, we have to make some hard choices and trade-offs for a new
career.

When tougher choices are needed, when actions get harder to take, we think we
can make things happen by exerting self-control. We try to manipulate the
conflict to go away–with self-imposed incentives, rewards, punishments. If I
lose 5 lbs this week, I’ll go shopping for a new outfit. If I send out 3
resumes this week, I’ll buy a flat screen tv to force myself to send out another
3 next week because I’m going to need a new job to make the payments on my
credit card.

Studies clearly show that this strategy of conflict manipulation does not
deliver long term success. When are motivation is driven by solving intense
emotional conflict, the relief is always temporary.

Emotional conflict leads us to act. Because we’ve acted, we feel better–even
if the situation hasn’t changed very much. Feeling better takes the pressure
off, which in turn reduces the emotional pressure we feel. Less emotional
conflict means there is less motivation to continue doing the things that
reduced the conflict in the first place. Since we feel better, there is no
pressing need to follow through with more actions. And the original behavior
returns.

This is why as many as 95% of dieters have put the weight back on within 12
months. And, while 95% of workers think about changing careers at least once a
week, only 5% ever act on that thought.

The only way off this merry-go-round of problem solving and conflict
manipulation is to create a clear picture–a vision if you will–for the outcome
you truly desire.

What I say to my clients is : Instead of trying to fix your bad job situation
(a problem orientation), let’s shift your focus to creating job joy (an outcome
orientation).

Yes, it is important is to find a short term solution to a problem but
understand that nothing really changes…until it actually does. Lasting change
is the result of effective and efficient actions organized around what really
matters to you over the long term.

You can make the best short term choices in the world but if your motivation is
to fix a career problem you have now or might have in the near future, you’ll be
back to your old tricks within a few years.

No wonder so many people give up on losing weight or changing careers! They
don’t know why they can’t pull it off. They’re sincere about it. They know the
stakes are high. But each time they try, their short term success is scuttled
by circumstances beyond their control…or so it seems.

I’ve reached a plateau in my weight loss. To reach my ideal weight, I need to
make more changes in my eating and exercise habits. What motivates me to do so
is the picture I carry in my head of things I will do with my optimal health.
What really matters to me is being very healthy as I move through middle age.
Weight loss is just one part of that bigger vision.

Similarly, I carry around a written Vision statement of my career 20 years or so
down the road. What keeps me going today–taking what are often small, mundane,
routine actions–is focusing on what really, really matters to me further down
the career path.

That is why I wrote my new eBook, JobJoy : Finding Your Right Work Through the
Power of Your Personal Story. You already have everything you need to get out
of yhour career trap and into a better jobfit, one that combines vitality and
security for a better life.

It’s not rocket science. But it does take time, energy and money. However, the
Return on that Investment is priceless! Get started today!

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Blow Your Horn

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Job search studies regularly show that it is not the best qualified candidate who gets the job most of the time. Instead, it is the strongest communicator. Why?

We live in a storytelling culture. We learn about each other and the world around us through story. Think of all the time you spend reading newspapers, magazine, blogs, or watching tv, DVDs, movies, or listening to radio, audiobooks, or podcasts. We are immersed in story.

A resume, a job search, an interview, a negotiation are each just another narrative, a chance to tell your story. Strong communicators have a gift for storytelling. Who is the most popular person at a party, wedding, dinner, or special event.? The one who tells the best jokes, the most interesting stories, the fascinating anecdotes. We are storytellers and listeners first and foremost.

A successful career transition or a job search requires some storytelling competence, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the listener, i.e. your next employer or client. A story does not exist in a vacuum. It is part of a social or cultural context. Here is how story fits into your job search.

Every organization has goals and objectives. They hire managers to achieve those goals. Managers, in turn, hire staff to do the work under their direction and guidance. These managers have the power to hire (and fire) individuals. In fact, over 40% of jobs are created for individuals who meet face-to-face with a manager outside of a formal job interview process. When you understand why, you can dramatically increase your chances of getting job offers.

Does the universe line up to facilitate the achievement of those organizational goals quickly and easily? Not likely. We live in a world of adversity. Defensemen seemed to be strategically positioned to knock down our best efforts to score a goal. In the world of work, these defensemen often show up as serious problems, formidable challenges, impact issues, pressure points, and a range of other social and economic variables difficult to control.

Just when a manager thinks they have everything stabilized and under control, life throws another spanner into the works. For example, employees die, retire, go on stress leave, go back to school, go on the mommy track, go to court, or go to another part of the country. There is a regular churn rate among staff in every organization. That is why there are always jobs; any good manager is always looking for good people because they always need new employees to cover the regular turnover of about 25% per year.

The key is to listen first to a manager, listen for the problems, challenges, and other obstacles getting in the way of their organization’s goals and objectives. Understanding their story is the first step to telling your own story with power and purpose. As every good storyteller knows, first know your audience.

If you take the time to listen, then orient your story for the needs of your audience, you will build rapport and establish top of the mind awareness in the manager. He or she will not soon forget you. And, when they need you, they will hire you.

Let me illustrate with a story about Tony. I helped him transition from a hi-tech career as a product manager to a new career working with NGOs. As part of his transition, he visited different organizations and spoke with managers, including the CEO at the Digital Opportunity Trust. They had a good discussion but she did not respond to a follow up. Tony moved on with further education and landed a job with another NGO.

As a result of some volunteer work, one of Tony’s colleagues crossed paths with that CEO, and mentioned Tony’s achievements. The CEO remembered their previous meeting, and requested another. They met again and had an engaging discussion about international development. There was no job opportunities at the time with DOT but Tony asked her to keep him in mind if things should change.

Well, a few years later, things did change, as the Trust grew and expanded its core executive team. They called Tony, he applied, was interviewed, and hired into his “dream job“ as Senior Director, Global Operations.

One of the reasons I put so much emphasis on having my clients write out their stories about enjoyable events and achievements is to help them build a vocabulary of success, a portfolio of stories. Communicating your stories with clarity and confidence is one of the best things you can do in a job search situation.

Tony changed his career by revisiting his personal story, mining it for his authentic talents and motivations, so that he had a new story to tell, one that communicated a new message.

He did not blow his horn in a loud or obnoxious fashion to gain attention; he listened to the music playing around him and added his own voice to the melody. Now, he will travel the world with job joy, doing what he loves and matters most to him.