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.

How networking in the short term paid off in the long term with dream job!

Tony

It took much courage to undertake the professional transition that Tony Vetter successfully completed recently.

Tony had worked more than 10 years in the telecommunications sector, having served as Senior Product Manager (Ciena), Director of Technical Marketing (Roshnee Corporation) and in advisor and managerial roles at Nortel.

Tony came to see me because he felt it was time to leave high tech. He needed a career that better matched his core values and where he could contribute meaningfully to making the world a better place.

He had a lot of energy but no real clarity regarding careers that matched his ambition for “values-rich” work. And he was skeptical about replacing his considerable income earned in the hi-tech sector for fulfilling but less financially rewarding work in the nonprofit sector.

“I realized that if I wanted to follow my heart I would eventually have to leave my career in high tech,” said Tony. “I felt that if I continued in high tech I would only be contributing to a development process driven by the pursuit of profit and technological advancement for its own sake. I found myself questioning whether the rapidly evolving trends I was seeing in the development of our global communications infrastructure would actually lead to a net benefit for the global community.”

Tony was particularly interested in how he could use his proven high tech skills to foster sustainable development through Information & Communication Technologies (ICT). However, he needed to be convinced that there were real opportunities for his skill set in a values-rich workplace. We completed a JobJoy Report to identify and define all his Key Success Factors.

I guided him through a systematic and deliberate process designed to successfully transition him from high-tech into International Development within four years. This involved the full range of transition services: assessment, targeting and marketing. We spent several years positioning him for ideal opportunities: rewriting his resume; identifying and meeting with prospective employers; and completing his Master’s Degree in International Affairs from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) in April, 2008.

His career transition was jump-started by a desire to demonstrate to others his proficiency in new skills, techniques and knowledge related to international development. He organizes around a drive for proficiency and is motivated by acquiring and using that proficiency in an accurate and timely manner.

Tony is motivated to comprehensively understand a subject and searches for underlying principles, logic or philosophical background. He has a strong desire to master fundamental skills and techniques of craft. Tony is not an academic working only with ideas: he strives to implement ideas in practical, day-to-day ways to make a difference in the lives of others.

“I have always instinctively felt that following my heart would lead me to making my best possible contribution to the world,” says Tony. “George helped me to identify the kind of work I most valued through the telling of my life stories for which I felt a sense of consistent satisfaction or events I particularly enjoyed.”

I provided Tony with contacts in his field of interest which led to face-to-face dialogue with people who had already made transitions from purely technical environments to international development. He also prospected with CIDA, IDRC, Industry Canada and other agencies with international development mandates. We used an Approach Letter strategy to help secure meetings with key people. This gave him a vocabulary to speak to others about himself in an accurate and forthcoming way independent of the jargon spoken in the high-tech industry.

Through the Norman Patterson Institute, Tony was placed on a cooperative placing with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), a Canadian-based not-for-profit organization located in more than 30 countries. IISD engages decision-makers in government, business, NGOs and other sectors in the development and implementation of policies that benefit the global economy, global environment and promote social well-being. The placement met Tony’s criteria of “values-rich” work and in July, 2007, Tony joined IISD on a permanent basis as Project Officer, Knowledge Communications. He has since moved on as an expert in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Sustainable Development.

About the same time, one of Tony’s colleagues crossed paths with the CEO of the Digital Opportunity Trust, and she subsequently met with Tony again to discuss 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.

“The most powerful aspect of George’s coaching for me was his process for opening doors to potential new career opportunities by making contact and interviewing people doing the kind of work I was interested in,” Tony said. “Post transition, I have ended up working with or having contact with many of the people I interviewed as part of my career transition. George has helped me successfully establish a solid network of contacts for growing my new career direction.

He is charged with researching and analyzing the efficacy of ICT for development initiatives and governmental ICT policy in developing countries in context of how they contribute to achieving sustainable economic and social development while respecting the limitations of the environment. Using the findings of research and analysis, he formulates recommendations for policy coherence with sustainable development strategies, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, Millennium Development Goals and other development frameworks and agendas.

Despite taking almost a 50% cut in pay in carrying out this transition, Tony has satisfied his need for values-rich work. Long term, he aspires to work on projects aimed at achieving sustainable development objectives using appropriate technologies in emerging markets, and to apply his ideas on development in practical, day-to-day ways to make a difference in the lives of others.

He will get the chance to do this very shortly. Remember the CEO of the Digital Opportunity Trust he met several times during the past five years? The DOT has experienced rapid growth, and late last year they decided they needed to expand their core executive team.

“Apparently she had been bringing my name up every few months, particularly when things got busy. So they gave me a call and asked if I would apply. I did, and they quickly had me interview with each member of the executive team. I was offered a package within 24 hours of my final interview that literally left me speechless.“

Tony deserves a lot of credit for the risks he took to have work that was meaningful for him. Although we desire certainty and safety, a career transition requires some tolerance for risk. Tony invested in what matters most to him. He connected with others who shared his values and had the power to hire him. He established and maintained rapport with the CEO of a targeted organization even though no job was readily available.

In the meantime, he continued building credibility and experience in his chosen field. When that NGO grew and the CEO needed somebody, she offered the opportunity to Tony, a person she knew professionally as competent, capable,and qualifed (and the rest of her team agreed). Tony’s short term sacrifices resulted in a return to his previous salary level in a field that harmonizes with his values and priorities.

Today, Tony is the Senior Director, Global Operations at Digital Opportunity Trust (http://dotrust.org/), with 8 national programs in Africa, operations in 3 middle eastern counties, and expanding operations to focus on Southern and Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus region, as well as operating in the USA, Mexico, and China. He is looking forward to taking his job joy around the world!

~ with Harry Gallon

How to Holiday Party Your Way into a Career Job!

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Mark Buzan came to me at age 22 and about to receive his political science
degree and wanted to work on Parliament Hill.

He wasn’t really clear about what he wanted to do. “It was pretty scary,” he
told me. The only thing he knew for sure was that he wanted to do something in
politics or journalism.

During our first conversation it became apparent that he wanted to work for a
Member of Parliament (MP), but he had no idea on how to get a job, on Parliament
Hill.

As far as he was concerned, thousands of people graduate with a degree in
political science every year and they all want a job on Parliament Hill and the
ones who get them are people who are very active in politics, or who’s families
have political connections. So what chance did he have?

But he had a problem that was bigger than no political connections. He sort of
knew what he wanted, but he didn’t have a target. If you want to hit the bull’s
eye you have to have a target. You can shoot an arrow, but it isn’t going to hit
the bull’s eye unless you have a target.

So we had a very important target to find. I did an assessment of his talents
and determined that the best job fit for him was as an executive assistant.
Then, we set about taking action to hit the target. And, it worked.

He came to me in November and by the end of January he had a job offer as a aide
to an MP.

Our plan to hit the bull’s eye began with some big parties. All the political
parties in Canada have Christmas parties on Parliament Hill. And they’re open to
the public. So I told him to go to the Christmas parties of the political
parties in which he was interested and mix with them. At a party, people are
more relaxed, more likely to interact on a social level, and more likely to be
open to hearing your story.

At one of the parties he met the senior member of the staff of Jason Kenney and
eventually got a job as an executive assistant in that office.

But obviously there’s more to getting the right job than just going to parties.
So our plan was very specific.

Mark had some special training in tax policy and tax law and had some ideas on
changing tax laws. First I told him to find out which MPs had the tax reform
portfolios for their parties. Then we put together a letter summarizing Mark’s
research and ideas about tax reform and sent it to those MPs requesting a
meeting. Then I provided him with a script of what to say to get into those
offices for a meeting.

Mark spent about 20 minutes with each MP and talked to about 6. He then
debriefed me on all his meetings.

One of those MPs set up a meeting with his legislative assistant–his right-hand
person–which turned out to be one of the people Mark had schmoozed with at the
Christmas party, so they already had a rapport. Mark had several more meetings
with that legislative assistant, eventually leading to a job offer.

Mark loved what he was doing, but after a while decided that he needed more
challenges. He wanted to become a lobbyist.

We put together a portfolio and then he created his own company called Action
Strategies. He received a couple of small assignments and built up a track
record. Then at 29, he got hired as lobbyist. His official title was Public
Affairs Coordinator for the Canadian Hydropower Association. Several other
positions followed and, today, Mark is an Executive Director of a national
organization for health care professionals.

All of that was very deliberate and intentional. It wasn’t luck. It was
intentional, having a clearly defined target, a vision of what he wanted, then
taking specific actions to move him closer to his vision until—bingo! He hit the
target.

Sometimes you have to take some risks to get what you want. Some people wouldn’t go to a Christmas party uninvited. You have to do unconventional things to get noticed. Not all of the time. But it increases your chances of getting hired.

How to Network into a Job during the Festive Season

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An MBA client told me this past week that she has sent out 200 resumes since August and received no callbacks for interviews. Believe it or not…this is a normal result in this kind of job market!

If she had done the same thing 20, or 15, or even 10 years ago, she would’ve received a good number of calls from internal and external recruiters because the economy was still hot and expanding, and there was strong demand from employers for skilled labor. Not anymore, not now, unless you’re in one of the few hot job categories.

Instead, this MBA client, as well as most other individuals, need to move from a passive job search to a pro-active job search. Some 80 percent of jobs are now found through networking. I explain this pro-active job search in detail in my free webinar ‘Secrets to a Successful Job Search.’

The principles outlined in my webinar are especially effective during the holiday season. Why? Because this is the time of year when goodwill towards all men and women is real, doors are open, and people want to chat. The timing for meaningful contacts related to job search and career advancement couldn’t be better.

Hiring managers and decision-makers attend office parties, social events and community celebrations. They take their hiring needs with them wherever they go. Problems, challenges, impact issues, pressure points continue to get in the way of managers leading their organizations to successful goals and objectives. They are always scouting for new talent, for people who can make their lives easier, and help them succeed.

Remember, this is the season for giving. So give people will give you time and attention. Listen to their stories. Politely ask questions that probe their concerns. Find out where you can help.

If you can, offer to help. People will appreciate and remember your generous offers to assist and support. This is how you build rapport, deepen relationships, foster trust—and generate job offers!

Productive networking is about building relationships not performing transactions. Leave a positive impression, strengthen ties, share ideas, give people a reason to remember you. Face time is quality time. Stay focused, be alert and don’t overindulge in food or beverages. Conduct yourself professionally at all times. Dress conservatively (unless the job sector rewards non-conformity!).

The ROI is simple–just one meaningful dialogue can create measurable value from every networking event.

* Avoid situations where you might be stressed, rushed or distracted from your networking mission.
* Seek out meaningful conversations that leave a strongly positive impression.
* Be ready to pick up insider-only knowledge.
* Try connecting those you know to each other.

I spoke recently with a client who received a generous job offer from a contact he had worked with on a committee related to a local branch of their professional association. He gave generously of his time and energy over the past two years, and his efforts did not escape notice by this hiring manager.

These holiday encounters could be your big break to chat with current or former employees at your target companies; exchange business cards with an industry leader; or, arrange a future meeting with someone difficult to reach. Brief interactions can be springboards to great relationships if you find ways to provide support and thereby sustain the connection.

If you want to optimize your networking efficiency, be prepared:

- Have specific job targets in mind
- Be ready to make clear, compelling points to attract attention.
- Have a set of probing questions that uncover job opportunities.
- Think about what you can give in terms of time and energy
- Listen actively so you are apt to pick up on a need you can address and keep up your end of the discussion.

In addition, have a ready supply of business cards that have your contact information as well as a few bullet points on the reverse depicting your interests, areas of expertise, or other memorable data. Make your card easy to read, and make sure your phone number is large. Ask others for their cards, and make a few notes on the back to remind you why the card may be important.

Remember, it’s the quality not the quantity of relationships developed, pursued or renewed. It’s not just what you know and who you know, but who knows what you know that produces new opportunities in today’s job market.

Happy holidays, happy giving and happy networking!

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.