The following is a sneak peek at a chapter from my book Winning the Game of Work which will be published by New Degree Press in April 2020. Please email me with any feedback you have at [email protected] Tell me two things you like and two things that could be better. If you'd like to support my self-publishing kickstarter, go to www.tiny.cc/gameofwork. Happy reading!!
I’m going to confess a deep dark secret… I’m a sucker for HGTV. I love settling in for marathons of House Hunters, Property Brothers, Fixer Upper, and scores of other real estate-related shows. There’s something strangely appealing about watching people search for their dream home in Malibu or renovate their mid-century modern in Kansas City.
I won’t call it a guilty pleasure, because after hundreds of hours of HGTV I’ve learned a very valuable career lesson. It is that buyers abhor uncertainty and will put off buying, or will require a big discount, to overcome any perceived risk.
If you’re wondering what “buying” has to do with your career, it’s very simple. Any time that you’re trying to influence someone – be it your boss, a colleague or the hiring manager at a company you aspire to work for, you’re “selling,” and they need to “buy” in order for you to achieve your goal. Getting hired is a very important sales job.
Hiring, like buying a house, can be fraught with risk. Organizations make a significant investment when they hire a new employee . Interviewing takes time. When a candidate is hired, they need to be trained and introduced to the people they’ll work with. They may need to meet and form relationships with clients. And all this happens before the new employee ever starts creating value for the company. If the new hire doesn’t work out, a lot of time, money, and political capital will have been wasted.
I’ve heard this refrain hundreds of times: “All I need is for someone to take a chance on me — once they hire me, they’ll see I was worth the risk.” At times in my career, I’ve said these very same words myself. It was frustrating when I was ready to move up and it seemed like no one was willing to take a chance on me.
However, I understood it much more clearly once I became a manager. Given what is at stake for the hiring manager, most aren’t keen on “taking chances” without ample evidence that it will pay off. Even if you are able to do a particular job, your résumé needs to say that clearly.
For most hiring managers, they want some assurances that the person they’re considering has done at least some aspects of the job they are hiring for. Even when a candidate has had similar responsibilities at another company, it’s often hard to get clarity on the intangibles, such as work ethic, cultural fit, and quality of their work.
Some of my worst hiring mistakes have been when I convinced myself that someone was a good bet rather than making them convince me. I gave them the benefit of the doubt rather than insisting that they prove to me that they were worthy of my trust and confidence. When I look back, I recognize that I had some reservations but I didn’t delve when I should have.
I was anxious to get the roles filled and get on with the normal routine. It was only later that I realized that I’d let my own impatience or optimism cloud my judgment when hiring. This would be analogous to buying a house and taking the homeowner’s word that there are no problems with the furnace rather than hiring a home inspector to confirm it.
This is where the lessons from the HGTV gurus come in. When a homeowner is trying to sell a home on those programs, professionals advise the seller to get their home ready for the market by creating curb appeal — clean it up, de-clutter, paint, cut the grass, get new carpet, and even pay a company to “stage” the home.
This allows the home to be shown to potential buyers in the best possible light. It eliminates the need for potential buyers to overlook the stains on the carpet or the neglected garden. When a home looks like it’s “move-in ready," buyers are inclined to believe what they see and want to buy.
Alternately, when homeowners list their homes “as-is” and make no investment in fixing up the home before listing it, the home is typically sold at a big discount. The uncertainty of potential problems is priced in.
The beauty of many of the programs on HGTV is that experienced real estate and building professionals will examine a fixer-upper and can tell if the issue is just cosmetic or if it's an expensive fix. Your average buyer doesn’t have the time or expertise to do that and therefore shies away from buying “as-is” homes. They just want to close, move in and get on with their lives.
Like the average home buyers, most hiring managers don’t have time to examine each candidate’s potential in any depth. When candidates hope that a hiring manager will “take a chance” on them, what they don’t realize is that the hiring manager is like the home buyer that just wants to buy a “move-in ready” house.
Having to take the time to hire a new employee is a huge disruption from their day-to-day job. The last thing they want to do is take a chance on someone, not have them work out and have to go through the ordeal all over again and have to repair any damage to their reputation that the poor hire may have caused.
If you’re the candidate, you need to make your value and attractiveness as a candidate immediately visible on your résumé and LinkedIn profile. If you get a screening interview, you need to be ready with clear examples of how you’ve been successful in previous roles that align with the job you’d like to have.
You need to bring the energy as well. Many managers will choose to hire someone who really wants a job and shows it over a slightly more qualified candidate who doesn’t show a high level of interest in the position. Blase is not a good look for a serious job candidate.
What can you do if you want to pivot to something new or you’re a new graduate who doesn’t have any professional experience? Invest in yourself to reduce the perceived risk of hiring you. Learn to tell your story in a concise and compelling way, spruce up your résumé, get your LinkedIn profile to all-star status, get some additional training in areas where you have gaps, make sure your image fits the role that you’re aiming for (invest in a stylist if needed) -- in other words, get yourself some career curb appeal.
If you’re not sure what blocks stand in the way of your career goals, hire a professional. Like a realtor advising a homeowner on how to get their home ready for market so it appeals to the largest number of buyers, a career coach can help you get yourself “ready for the market” so that you're also in demand.
Years ago, when my boss left a large bank I worked for, I applied for his job when they finally sought to fill it about six months after he left. I had been his right-hand person and wrote or reviewed a large percentage of the communications that he sent to the organization as a whole and to other leaders.
I had a very good understanding of both the marketing strategy which I’d helped craft and the dynamics of the business. In the months after he left, I stepped up to provide leadership to the team and felt that I had a good shot at being officially promoted into the role.
I applied for the role, but I didn’t do anything special to prepare myself for the interview. I had been at the company for about eight years at that point and would be interviewing with people who I had worked with in different capacities over the years and I assumed that they understood the value that I brought to the organization. In retrospect, that was a big mistake on my part.
I realize now that because most of the interviewers supported other businesses and were in another city, that they actually didn’t understand what I did. Their knowledge of my expertise and contributions was very shallow. In addition, I hadn’t interviewed in eight years since I was hired by the company.
The first interview was with Human Resources and was basically a screening interview. I did well and was granted a second interview. The second round interview was to be with a panel of marketing leaders from other areas of the company. I had never been in a panel interview before and wasn’t sure what to expect. Disappointingly, once in the interview I became nervous and anxious and didn’t perform well. Let’s just call it for what it was — I bombed!
I felt so humiliated not only because I hadn’t presented myself in my best light, but also, these were people I would continue to work with and see at departmental events. I felt like they would be looking at me as a lightweight and not worthy of performing at a management level. It was embarrassing.
Frankly, I don’t like viewing myself as less than an all-star. Though I realized that I wouldn’t be progressing to the next phase of the interview process, I was motivated to get at the heart of what caused my disastrous performance.
I hired a career coach to help me get over my interview anxiety. With her help, I learned how to talk naturally and persuasively about the value that I brought to the organization. I used the PAR method to concisely frame up:
The PROBLEMS I encountered
The ACTIONS I took
The RESULTS that accrued
She also helped me to recognize how to “package” myself so that I’d be viewed as ready to deliver value at the next level. I went on a shopping spree and bought some suits and dresses that were more tailored and of a higher quality than what I typically wore to work. I was dressing for the job I wanted rather than the job I was currently in. In other words, I started acting “as if” I were already at that next level.
The recruiting process for the open role continued and eventually a candidate was offered the position, but she declined to take the job. The hiring manager didn’t feel comfortable offering the role to any of the other candidates, so he started the recruiting process again from square one.
I re-applied for the role and using the skills and new mindset that I’d practiced with the help of my coach, I progressed to the final round of interviews. It was down to me and an external candidate. I felt much more confident going through the process the second time and I was able to easily communicate the value that I provided for the organization. I was hopeful that this time I’d earn the promotion.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. It was a huge disappointment when I found out that they decided to offer the role to the external candidate. But it didn’t take long to realize that the universe had a different plan for me. The very day I learned that the other candidate had accepted the job, while I was at lunch a recruiter had left me a voicemail about a role that was a great fit for me at another company.
It was as if I was being told that since I’d prepared, there was something bigger in store for me – and indeed there was. That message began an active period of interviewing for me. By the time I finally moved on from that company, I had two job offers and was interviewing actively with a third company.
The investment I made in improving my skills and promoting myself mentally to the next level paid off. Instead of naively expecting people to see me the way I saw myself, I learned to present myself in a way that made them feel confident “buying” so there was no doubt that any investment in me would be worth it. In other words, I tended to my career curb appeal and it paid off.
If you’ve got big goals and you’re not getting the response that you expect, take an inventory of how you’re being perceived. Many companies offer 360 degree feedback surveys where colleagues who report to you, as well as peers and superiors can provide anonymous feedback on how they experience you.
You may check to see if this is offered at your company. If that’s not an option, ask friends or colleagues who will be straight with you how you’re viewed. You can create a version of your own 360 degree anonymous survey using SurveyMonkey and provide the link to friends and colleagues to provide feedback on how you’re perceived. Many executive and leadership coaches can conduct a 360 degree review on your behalf.
The feedback you get isn’t always easy to digest if it’s different than what you expected, but recognize that feedback is a gift. People already think what they will of you and it’s only when they share their perceptions that you have any chance of changing a negative perception.
It’s much better to get it from people who know and care about you than to squander opportunities because you’re not showing up at your potential best. Having a supporter in your corner such as a coach, mentor or therapist can also be helpful in maintaining a healthy perspective as you work on personal development.
Just as an experienced realtor can help you see flaws in your own home that should be addressed before putting it on the market, an objective helping professional can help you polish and refine how you present yourself in the market whether it be for a new job or a promotion.
Addressing my own weak interviewing skills was a little painful and nerve-wracking, but after I addressed it felt great to be able to confidently showcase my capabilities and move to the next level rather than be stuck because I didn’t want to acknowledge how I was perceived.
Let’s switch gears to a problem that sometimes crops up in the corporate world which is in some ways the opposite of the previous situation. You are perceived as competent — maybe so competent that you can take on much more responsibility but with one little catch. It’s more responsibility for the same pay! Here’s a story of how this situation began for me.
My boss asked me to have breakfast with the head of sales for another division in our company. I wasn’t told the reason for the meeting, but it seemed suspiciously like a job interview. And sure enough, a week or so after the breakfast meeting my boss asked me to take on responsibility for that division’s marketing team in addition to my current role leading marketing for another business. I was excited about the opportunity for advancement, but I soon realized I needed to slow my roll. Through a garble of excuses, my boss explained that though my responsibilities were doubling that there would be no raise. Only a vague promise to consider a mid-year bonus based on undefined performance results.
Soon an announcement went out to the entire marketing organization making it sound like I’d gotten a promotion. I honestly wasn't sure how to respond when people began to congratulate me… "Thanks... I guess?" The pats on the back and congratulatory emails from colleagues just reinforced the nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right with this situation.
With disruption in many industries, this scenario has become increasingly common. I have heard many examples of employees being asked to take on substantially more responsibility without the benefit of a raise, formal promotion or even change in title. Their bosses provide excuses along the lines of:
“We have budget constraints"
“This is a great opportunity to prove yourself"
“We’ll revisit it in a few months to see how you do” etc.
While the long-term efficacy of this approach to management is questionable, it doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, it’s important for you to figure out how to deal with it both in the short-term, to maintain your sanity, and in the long-term in order to leverage it for advancement in tangible terms — not just the privilege of doing more work for the same rewards.
When the “opportunity” is piled on to existing responsibilities it can result in increased stress and uncertainty. Your immediate concern needs to be recognizing and managing your stress level. When dealing with stress, alternative medicine proponent Dr. Deepak Chopra recommends the STOP approach:
S: Stop what you are doing.
T: Take a few deep breaths.
O: Observe the sensations in your body and smile.
P: Proceed with awareness and compassion.Chopra also recommends meditation which can help to keep your mind and body connected and provide critical perspective on your situation. I recommend that you try not to lose sight of what’s reasonable.
In my own situation, I continually reminded myself that I was doing the work that two people had done previously. I realized that I had to adjust my own expectations about what could be done in the number of hours I was willing to devote to this job and to focus on the top priorities for each role. Strangely, just acknowledging that fact to myself kept me grounded. Though I’m driven, I also recognized that I needed to set some boundaries. I wasn’t going to work 80 hours per week for the same paycheck I’d earned working 45-50 hours per week.
Though I wasn’t given a real choice but to take on the additional work, I did have a choice about how I’d define what success looked like for me. I spent a lot of time reminding my boss about what was reasonable and the extraordinary lengths that I was going to in managing these two roles. I didn't want me doing two jobs for one paycheck to become the new normal.
It’s critical to maintain a healthy perspective so that you don’t get so caught up in the unrelenting demands of work that you aren’t enjoying your life and finding ways to refill your energy supplies. Remember, there’s more to life than your job.
Similar to the situation where you are asked to take on a lot more for the same pay, it’s not uncommon for people to be asked to do more work with no additional pay when special circumstances arise such as a co-worker leaving or being out due to illness, a big deadline approaching, or other special situations.
It is important to manage your stress level when you’re asked to take on significantly more responsibility for the same pay. Maintaining your energy is the priority when you’re faced with this situation, closely followed by keeping a healthy perspective.
We’ve been conditioned to expect more pay when we’re asked to undertake more responsibilities and/or deliver more value. I'll share some strategies for how to use the experience to get ahead in the long term.
First, I want to be clear on what I'm talking about... I'm not talking about being asked to stay late for a few days or even weeks as your organization works towards a critical deadline. That type of situation, while tiring and potentially frustrating, is temporary with a foreseeable end-date. That's really part of business as usual.
What I'm referring to is when you're asked to take on significantly more responsibility with no promise of additional compensation or promotion, and with no foreseeable end-date. These situations typically arise when team members leave and their roles are either filled slowly or not at all, but the work does not stop or slow down. Or perhaps a supervisor leaves and her second-in-command is expected to step in and fill the former boss's shoes, but without the boss's title, compensation or clout. (This is essentially the situation I experienced and described earlier in this chapter.)
This happens for a variety of reasons: difficulty finding a suitable replacement, being too busy to recruit, anticipating a restructuring which would make the former role obsolete, taking advantage of cost savings while not paying the departed employee's salary, or a lack of understanding at the higher level about the impact of not filling the role more quickly.
If you are one of the remaining employees expected to take up the slack, it can sometimes be hard to maintain a positive outlook. You are working harder and may feel like no one notices which often results in feelings of helplessness and resentment.
Though feelings of frustration or anger in these situations are perfectly understandable, do whatever you can to maintain a positive attitude because, bottom line, opportunity is opportunity.
John F. Kennedy once said, "The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity."
When rapid change takes place, by being savvy, you can ride it to a better place and benefit from the change that you would not be able to do in a more stable environment. Be clear about how you can leverage the new situation to get something that you want out of it.
The first thing you need to do is give some thought to what you want. (It's often harder than it sounds to know what you really want…) Things to consider are: Do you like what you’ve been asked to do? Is this something that you’d like to do long-term? If the answer is yes, what else would you like to go along with the additional responsibility? More money? An elevated title? More resources? Get clear on your desired outcome, then approach your boss and let her know what you want and ask what you need to do in order to make that happen.
One of three things could happen:
You could be given what you ask for or be told that it’s something that will be seriously considered.
You could be told the conditions under which you'll be granted your request.
You could be told that you cannot have what you want for a variety of reasons that could range from no budget, lack of willingness to go to bat for you or (ironically) not seeing you as qualified for the role or promotion (though you may already be doing the job by default.)
Each of these answers gives you information you can use in determining your next step. If the answer is #1 and you get what you ask for, congrats! Now get clear on the expectations and deliver.
If the answer is #2 and you are given clarity on the steps you’ll need to take in order to earn the promotion and/or raise, that’s good news! You have clarity and can start developing a plan to get what you want. Once you’ve implemented your plan and met the conditions that were communicated, make your boss aware of it and ask her to follow through on the commitment she made. If she does, congrats! If she doesn’t then by default, you’re at option #3.
If the answer is #3 and you are asked to take on significantly more responsibility on a permanent basis for the same rewards, you will have some decisions to make. You’ve already thought about what you want, and you’ve asked for it and been told your request won’t be fulfilled. So now what?
Use your experience to get what you want... at a different firm. List all your additional responsibilities and the results you drove on your résumé and LinkedIn profile. Also, use a title that is descriptive of what you do even if it’s not your actual job or title.
For example, if your boss left and all his responsibilities have been given to you, list yourself as Interim or Acting Director or Manager of your department. If you don’t feel comfortable using that as a title, you can list it in the body of your résumé in a bullet such as “After previous manager left, served as interim department director leading team planning efforts and representing the department at the senior leadership meetings.” TRACK YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Though you may be crazy-busy, make the time to keep track of all your accomplishments. If due to your additional responsibilities, you have new access to senior leaders in the organization, take the opportunity to introduce yourself. If you have access to people from other areas of the company use this time to build relationships.
This is called leveraging your opportunities for future gain. It may be through exposure to these new co-workers that you discover new opportunities (that may come with additional pay) and you’re placing yourself in a position where others can begin to see your potential.
In addition to looking at positions within your own company, look outside as well. If your current company won’t pay you for your additional contributions, see if other companies may be interested in talking with you. You may find that other companies value your skills and experience more than your current company. If you need help strategizing or brushing up on interview skills, hire a coach to help you.
From a wardrobe and grooming standpoint make sure your professional image aligns with what people expect at the level you’re aspiring to move into. If you need to, invest in a haircut or better clothing in order to be perceived as that “next level” leader. If you get a big raise and promotion, an investment of a few hundred dollars spent on your image will provide a big return.
Even if you don't want to leave your organization and aren't able to negotiate for a raise and/or promotion, consider asking for other forms of compensation. Here are a few ideas:
A spot in an executive or specialized training class
Extra vacation days
Nomination for a company award
Membership dues for an industry association
A car allowance
Sports tickets in the company box
Attendance at an industry conference
Managers don't always have the flexibility to grant raises or promotions but may be willing to provide other forms of compensation or recognition that they have discretion over.
If you're asked to go above and beyond, make sure that you come out better off for it. Remind yourself (and your boss) of the value you've brought. Be a strong advocate for yourself and the advancement of your career. With the right attitude and career management strategy, you might be the first to raise your hand the next time there's a big disruption at work because you know how to leverage it for your advancement.
I was a freshly minted MBA sitting in a meeting at my new employer. The issue at hand is now hazy in my memory but what stood out to me was that everyone in the room seemed very puzzled by how to approach the situation being discussed.
I had an idea, but I was convinced it wasn’t worth mentioning because it seemed so obvious. I thought surely it had occurred to, and been rejected by, all the esteemed leaders in the room. A lively discussion continued until about 45 minutes into the meeting when the head of the group proposed an idea and immediately everyone got in line behind the idea. And wouldn’t you know it... her brilliant idea was the same one that I’d had 10 minutes into the meeting and kept to myself.
Even though I’d had the idea first, because I hadn’t shared it, I would not get credit or be recognized for being a strategic thinker. That hurt because I longed to make an impact and move up. I was hiding my light under the proverbial bushel basket and not only that because I was too shy to speak up, many man-hours of valuable executive time were wasted. Had I shared the idea when it occurred to me, we could have fast-forwarded to discussing how to implement the idea.
I’m not unique in this habit of self-editing and I wish I could say that was the only time that happened in my career. In my practice as a Leadership Coach, it’s common for smart people to not share ideas that come to them quickly when others later proffered the same idea and were recognized for it. Maybe you’ve also self-edited to your own detriment.
So, this phenomenon begs two questions:
What gets in the way of speaking up and sharing your ideas?
More importantly, how can you overcome the barriers to participate fully and confidently at work so that you are adding value and feeling fulfilled?
There are several reasons that you may refrain from sharing your ideas. Each of these reasons boils down to fear — fear of negative outcomes such as criticism, embarrassment, or exposure. You may also avoid speaking up because of underlying fears related to potential positive outcomes such as setting the bar for higher performance expectations in the future and the pressure of potentially needing to execute on the ideas that you have come up with.
The key to snuffing out these fears is to get to the heart of beliefs that underpin the blocks. You could have a gremlin message (wrongly) telling you that you’re not as good as the others in the room. Especially if you’re less experienced, it’s understandable that you might put leaders on a pedestal and expect them to know more -- that's not unusual. But it’s important to remember that leaders are only human and didn’t start out at the top of the ladder. Usually they got there by distinguishing themselves and if you want to get ahead, you need to do the same by showing what you know and what you can do.
You were also hired to bring your ideas, experience and unique insights to the company. If you’re invited to a meeting, then you can believe that your ideas are expected and hopefully will be valued. If you have an ambition to advance in your organization then share your ideas. It’s only by taking risks that you make progress and show others what you’re capable of.