5 Great interview questions to challenge your interviewer

By Neil Patrick and David Hunt, PE

My good friend and regular poster here David Hunt has come up with five really great questions that will challenge any interviewer.

Having some epic questions on hand for the end of the interview is a stumbling block for many. So we hope these give you some ready made ideas!

Here’s why good questions are important:

  1. It shows you have prepared properly 
  2. It demonstrates to your interviewer that know how to ask good questions. And in most management jobs, this is a vital skill. 
  3. Most importantly, it can give you valuable insights about the job and culture of the organisation, which may well affect your subsequent negotiations, assuming you are offered the job. It might even persuade you, you don't want the job!

It’s not that they are devious (well perhaps a bit), but they will impress your interviewer that you have thought outside the box and are not wasting this vital opportunity to learn the things that are really important to you.

After all, at an interview you should be testing your potential employer as much as they are testing you. It should be a two way process.

And at the very least, every one of them holds the potential for you to enjoy watching your interviewer squirming!

Here are David’s five questions (and every one’s a corker!):

Why shouldn’t I work here?

Yes, you read that right. It’s a twist on “Why should I want to work here?” I actually read that as a recommended question for candidates – i.e., “Why shouldn’t we hire you?” – intended to put people outside their comfort zones; IMHO, those types of questions are deliberately intended to shake candidates up – because people who are rattled tend to make more mistakes.

This one will definitely put your interviewer outside their comfort zone, opening them up for some follow-on questions. (Hey, if they can ask questions to rattle you, turnabout is fair play – but I only recommend this if they are already asking “rattle the candidate” questions.)

Among many other possibilities, you might learn that while they’re willing to dish out such questions, they’re not used to “uppity” candidates asking equivalent questions in turn. (Body language will tell much here.)

How do you determine your salary ranges?

I just read an article, here, with a question “Why are you asking for that salary?” Too many companies these days are salary-obsessed, not value-obsessed. In the case of this question, candidates are asked to justify their salary request.

Turn it around – after they bring up salary, of course (e.g., “Well, I’m looking for a salary range from X to Y… if I might ask, how do you determine your salary ranges?”).

And if they talk about doing market surveys, competitive analysis, and so on, ask where they fall in that range? If the answer is something like “We try to be competitive” what they’re really saying is that they try to be enough above average to brag about… while expecting to hire the cream of the crop.

How do you check people out on social media websites? 

 What do you consider important things to look for? And how do you know, absent a picture, whether a “hit” on google is the right person?

This is generally intended for HR, but could be aimed at a hiring manager as well. Social media checking is the latest thing for vetting candidates – and by asking “how” you subtly convey that you expect them to do it, after all it’s not IF they will look for you, it’s WHERE – and what they do with the information.

By explicitly addressing this question you find out what they do. And if you’ve found some information related to someone else, or information from a while ago when you were hot-headed and posted something you now regret, this is a chance to head it off proactively.

See here, here, here, here, and here for a lot more of my thoughts – shameless self-promotion here!

Where do people typically eat lunch?

This is not an inquiry about the local restaurant scene; it is an inquiry into the culture. The cultures are very different as indicated by whether people have (or take) the time to go to the cafeteria to eat and socialize, vs. bolting lunch down at their desk trying to get more work done.

As a follow-up question, to the hiring manager, is “What’s your favorite local restaurant?” or, possibly, “When’s the last time you ate out for lunch?” If you really want to be sneaky, and not sound like you’re food-obsessed, ask the favorite restaurant question only (ideally, as you lean back into a relaxed pose). If the hiring manager has a dumb look on their face, and can’t answer after a moment’s thought, it means they don’t go out to lunch, ever. Which means, likely, that nobody else does… and likely everyone eats at their desk to squeeze more work out.

How do plan your peoples’ development?

Lots of companies talk about professional development. Many tout tuition programs. But for the most part, companies these days leave a person’s career development up to the person. This is an error.

Now I’m not saying that a person should be pushed through to career positions that they truly don’t want. Companies as an organization, however, have a vested interest in identifying “high potential” people internally, and helping them develop – both educationally as well as with assignments that broaden their perspectives and time horizons of their decisions – and I don’t mean individual managers picking their own “Golden Children” to nurture… I mean by a systematic, formal process.

The best companies proactively help people along in their careers without having to have people, themselves, do all the planning work and identification of training / developmental assignments.

If you have any personal favorite questions you’d like to add, please post then below and we’ll be happy to share them.

Why boomer careers will never be the same again (VIDEO)

By Neil Patrick

The threat to baby boomers' careers and financial outlook won't go away even if the economy improves. Here's why and and what we must all do about it.

Thanks to this blog, I keep on running into amazing people who help inform and shape my view of the way mature professionals can deal with the career crisis.

A few weeks ago I hooked up with John Tarnoff in California. He's spent most of his career in the entertainment and film industry. John first came to my attention when I watched his highly entertaining and thought provoking talk at So Cal TEDx.

John's had 18 jobs in his 38 year career. And he's been fired from 39% of them.

He's changed jobs therefore on average every 2.1 years. So among his many talents, he's also a master at career reinvention. And if you think with all your qualifications and accomplishments you don't need this skill, I beg to disagree.

John Tarnoff

As we chatted on Skype and emailed, it was clear that we'd reached the same conclusions about the critical career challenges the boomer generation faces.

Personal reinvention isn't an option - it's a critical 21st century survival skill

This is going to be possibly the most important career skill you'll need to survive and prosper in the 21st century. Did anyone ever teach you this at school or university? No, me neither.

The trouble is that the education system that the baby boomers went through was geared to a different century and a different set of global economics.

As I talked about here, we are at the end of the second industrial revolution and are entering the third. And in the third industrial revolution, the key technology is the internet and digital media. Just knowing how to send emails, set up your Linkedin profile and browse stuff online isn't enough.

It doesn't matter what sector you work in, if you are not savvy about the way digital technology is reshaping your profession, you need to be. And you need to be at the front, not behind the curve if you are to have any chance of continuing to practice your other hard won skills.

If you're behind, you can be sure that you are or will be at risk of losing your place to someone much younger even if they don't have all your years of experience.

A cozy retirement starting in your sixties is going to be a rarity

If we were all coasting comfortably towards retirement, this wouldn't be so much of an issue. But 2008 and it's aftermath has changed all that. The professional middle classes in the US and Europe were struck by a tsunami so  huge that it has devastated their personal assets.

Property asset values tumbled, investments had billions wiped off, pension plans shriveled, savings interest rarely even matched inflation. All the while, living costs and particularly food and energy bills rose and rose. Hardly anyone in the professional classes became wealthier between 2008 and today.

Few are currently able to look forward to a comfortable retirement when they reach 65 unless they drastically reevaluate what they are going to do to keep the money coming in..

The skills required to be employable in today's jobs, let alone those in 10 years time, have changed beyond recognition. Because technology, communications and media have changed beyond recognition.

An economic recovery can't rectify this damage

Whilst there are encouraging signs about economic recovery in the US and UK, don't be tempted into thinking all may be coming good again and the terrible threat to our future is receding. It isn't. Because the root of the current economic woes of the baby boomers, isn't the trashing of their balance sheets, it's something much harder to quantify. It's the dawn of a whole new industrial era. And that means a whole new set of survival skills are called for.

If you've not seen John's talk, I am happy to share the video below. If you wonder what your career future holds for you...then watch it. It's also probably the most fun you'll have today (with your clothes on anyway).

And more importantly, it might just get you thinking.

Here's John's introduction:

On July 14th, I was asked to give a TEDX Talk for TEDxSoCal in Long Beach, CA (home of the big TED event) on the theme of "The Alchemy of Transformation ... Our Selves, Our Work Places, Our Living Spaces." In looking at this question, it occurred to me that while my professional work is focused on helping the next generation of media content professionals adapt to the amazing and pervasive paradigm shifts introduced by digital technology, here was an opportunity to discuss some of these same paradigm shifts for an audience that I had never really addressed: my own Baby Boomer generation.

While the students that I work with (and the schools they go to) are trying to figure out how to prepare for entering the media industry and developing new careers, the Baby Boomers are on the other side of equation, looking at how to wrap up their careers and transition into what we commonly refer to as "retirement."

The well-known problem for the Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964), is that, as a generation, we have not prepared for this transition. There are many statistics available here, but the most striking number to me is this one: 80 percent of us have saved less than $100,000 for our retirement. Given the economics of the last five years, and the prospects ahead of us, what this means is that the Boomers are going to have to keep working - and the problem there is that neither we nor society at large are prepared for us to remain in the work force.

My point in the TEDx talk is propose some ideas on how to reinvent ourselves in order to maintain our relevance in and relevance to the workforce. We need to start reframing who we are and what we think we're capable of doing, and to reject the idea that old dogs can't learn new tricks.

After all, we have some pretty amazing life experience to draw from. If our kids are actually listening to all of our music (my daughter is currently negotiating vociferously for access to my 600 hundred-album stack of vinyl...), then we can't be all that out of touch. If we were able to piss off our parents and master the art of talking on the phone, doing homework and listening to the radio, we should be able to figure out how to multi-task between Text, Email, Voicemail and Skype while sitting at Starbucks in between meetings.
As I know from working with my graduate students, there's a lot that they know, and there's a lot that they don't know. They and we want and need guidance from one other. It's one big ecology: our wisdom and experience + their digital awareness and limitless passion.

In the midst of so many paradigm shifts that I'm observing in the digital age, one emerges out of this situation that I'd like to share. In the 20th century, we thought of life in three broad stages: Education, Career and Retirement. In the 21st century however, I believe that these three need to be replaced by Self Awareness, Creation, and Service. While this is guidance for young people starting out, it is also an important concept for those of us on the other side of the curve.

I invite you to view the TEDx Talk to hear some specific suggestions on how the Boomers can take back some control of our careers as we press on into unexpected and uncharted territory. Hint: The kids can be alright!

Why you should be truthful about your qualifications

By Neil Patrick

As many as one third of job applicants admit to lying on their job applications. But if they got away with it before, it’s about to get a whole lot harder.

A couple of weeks ago I posted here about the issue of people being ‘liberal’ in how they presented themselves on their LinkedIn profiles. It’s a dumb move and one which can lead to disastrous outcomes for employees and employers alike.

While I was researching for that post, I came across some interesting news that alleged that ‘degree fraud’ in the UK had been found to be most prevalent amongst older job applicants.

The types of fraud I refer to range from non-existent qualifications in some cases through doctored certificates to show higher grades to awards from non-existent academic institutions.

I had assumed (wrongly as it turns out) that it was simple for an employer to verify an applicant’s qualifications through a central database.

Not so.

Amazingly until now there has been no central database of information from academic institutions that allows simple checks to be made.

But that is all changing. The Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) is intended as the first port of call for any individuals or organisations seeking degree verification. It can be used to check that a UK higher education provider existed and was approved by the UK government at a given date. It provides contact details to direct the user to the appropriate records office for their query.

It is particularly useful for employers and postgraduate course providers wanting to verify degree results, and for graduates to request transcripts and replacement certificates.

HEDD is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to address these issues and direct those seeking information to the correct body to answer their query. HEDD is managed by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) on behalf of Universities UK and Guild HE.

I contacted Jayne Rowley, Director of Business Services at HEDD as I was keen to know more. Jayne told me that:

“80% of major graduate recruiters rely on CVs and degree certificates. Only 20% actually check with the issuing university. For smaller businesses we think it’s even worse. Our office wall is a rogue’s gallery of fake or doctored certificates and we list more than 140 bogus universities on the university look up service on the website”.

When HEDD did their original research prior to the service being was set up, they questioned employers about why they didn’t check. The main reasons cited were that they weren’t aware that fraud was a big problem and that there was no easy central way to make the checks.

Jayne said, “Every HR survey we’ve seen shows that about 1/3 of people admit to lying on job applications and the most common lie is about qualifications”.

Clearly this is a massive problem. But according to Jayne, the highest incidence of degree fraud occurs amongst older applicants:

“Even though there are many more enquiries about recent graduates, there are more 'errors' in HEDD enquiries about older graduates and it is disproportionate to the number of enquiries when compared to the checks on recent graduates.

We also carry out research with employers about their verification practices. The conclusions we draw on older people not getting checked are because they are assumed to have been checked earlier in their career, or because the focus is on their experience”.

So the situation is clear. If you are ever tempted to lie about your qualifications, don’t even consider it; you will get found out. The loopholes that previously existed are closing fast. Play to your strengths, invest your time and efforts in your interview skills instead and win fair and square.

And if you are an employer or HR person hiring in the UK, I recommend you check out the HEDD service. Here’s the link: https://www.hedd.ac.uk/aboutHedd.htm

I’d like to thank Jayne Rowley and her team at HEDD for talking to me and wish them well in their important work.

The 6 job interviews you can never win

By Neil Patrick

There are six job interview situations, in which it doesn’t matter how good you are, how excellently your perform at the interview, you will not get hired.

For all the talk about excellent hiring practices, process quality, talent management, investing in people, the hiring process has always been and will continue to be imperfect.

If you are struggling to understand why you didn’t get hired for a job you were easily the best candidate for, I’m willing to wager that one of the following six reasons applied.

Here they are:

1. The comfort factor. These are legitimate reasons from the employer’s point of view. They include your current or previous salary level, relocation requirements, and recent experience. You may be perfectly willing to settle for a lower salary than you have enjoyed previously. You may also be perfectly happy to up sticks and move to the other side of the country. And learn any new skills that may be required. But the employer will perceive that these adjustments will make you feel uncomfortable and hence less motivated. Result: you’re rejected. 

2. Your age. I’m not just talking about discrimination against older candidates here either. For some roles, the grey hair factor is a definite plus. Of course it’s nonsense. And yes it’s also illegal, but it’s so easy to dodge the accusation of age bias, that plenty of employers can and do. 

3. The internal candidate. Firms will sometimes advertise a position even when they have no intention of hiring because they have an internal candidate lined up. But the company wants to legitimise this decision, so they benchmark the internal candidate against who else is available. The odds are heavily stacked against you in this situation. The internal candidate, who is a known quantity is almost guaranteed to get the job.

4. You’re better than your boss. Again, this is almost impossible to win; the hiring manager feels that you are so competent that you could do their job. Even if you don’t want their job, and are fully prepared to be a supportive sub-ordinate, they will worry that your expertise may expose shortcomings in their own. The outcome is they will choose a less well qualified candidate. 

5. Looks matter. Nepotism is alive and well. So is positive discrimination that favours the physically attractive. The sad truth is that if you’re up against someone with film star good looks, they’ve got an automatic bonus card over you. I won’t even discuss what happens when a hiring manger feels a strong physical attraction to a candidate. 

6. Incompetent interviewers. Hiring managers are rarely trained interviewers. This has always been a problem, and it’s become worse. In the tough times we have gone through, interview skills training for every manager is a luxury few can afford. The result is that at best your technical competencies will get a fair appraisal, but your other soft competencies and value adding capabilities will not. Worse an untrained interviewer may be easily influenced by a less competent candidate that can dazzle them with slick talking.

If you have an interview failure and any one of these situations applies, you can at least take consolation that even though you were not chosen, it doesn’t reflect badly on you.

Yes, it’s not fair. Yes it may be counterproductive for the employer. But you can walk away with your self-confidence intact…and that’s exactly what you should do. Never take such situations personally and move on, safe and confident in the knowledge that you were not beaten by a better person.

If you've experienced any of these situations, do please share these in the comments below.

Are you self-employed or self-unemployed?

By Neil Patrick

As the economy improves, so too are the prospects for self-employment

The government has been making bold announcements about the fall in unemployment lately.

On the surface, the latest UK figures are very good news. Employment is up, unemployment and youth joblessness is down.

Almost a quarter of a million jobs were created in the three months to February a rate of growth which is easily outpacing the US, still the world's biggest economy.

UK self-employment has risen by more than 600,000 since the 2008 crisis to 4.5m. Some argue that this is a sign of entrepreneurship. This may be true in some cases. But my experience suggests something else.

I call it ‘self-unemployment’

There’s a whole army of professionals in the UK, who for years enjoyed well-paid secure jobs. Their skills meant they could be confident about long and rewarding careers. Then, in 2008 the tsunami hit.

That was almost six years ago.

In the ensuing collapse, hundreds of thousands of established career professionals watched helplessly as not just their jobs, but often their employers and even whole industry sectors were swept away.

If you are one of these people and if you’ve been largely unemployed for that period, even if you’ve called yourself ‘self-employed’, your chances of getting hired into a new job again haven’t improved much.

For a start you are six years older. And six years is the total career history of many of your younger, more up to date competitors for jobs. Whilst they have been growing their skills and experience and keeping up to date, what have you been doing?

I know dozens of formerly employed people who have lost their often well paid jobs in the recession. They are nothing like the traditional long-term employed, low on education, skills and motivation. They are used to getting up and going to work. And they have valuable skills.

They don’t like the stigma of being labelled ‘unemployed’. But they haven’t been able to find jobs. So they have turned to self-employment, usually trying to apply and sell the skills they have acquired during their career.

The reality of self-employment

When they did this they experienced a rude awaking. They discovered that earning a living in this way is much harder than they ever thought possible.

There are many reasons for this. The fact is that being highly skilled in your profession as an employee, doesn’t automatically equip you with all the skills you’ll need to do a similar type of work as a self-employed person.

For a start, some jobs just do not lend themselves to self-employed variations of what you did when you were employed.

Secondly the work will not come to you. You have to hunt it down, grow your network and opportunities. This work which of course is always unpaid, consumes a large part of your available time.

Third, when you find an opportunity, you need a whole set of sales and marketing skills to turn that opportunity into an income stream.

And you need to keep the work coming month in month out, just like your bills.

Overcoming these obstacles is a skillset all on its own.

But things are set to improve

Right now, the economic recovery is still fragile and organisations are cautious about any expenditure, often preferring instead to try and solve problems with their existing resources. However, assuming the economy continues to improve, this caution will ease, particularly in the private sector, creating a greater willingness for businesses to spend again.

Hiring extra full-time staff can be a big step for firms. Plenty of skilled work needs to be done which may not warrant a full time position, but which can be ideally carried out by a part time contractor, who is flexible on the hours they work and carries no overhead or legal and contractual obligations for the client.

Second, as employment levels rise, the available pool of talent will shrink, forcing businesses to look around more widely for the skills they need.

My feeling is that in the UK, the prospects for the self-employed are likely to slowly but steadily improve over the coming months.

So if you are currently self-unemployed, my view is that you should stay the course. The jobs market may be improving, but you will not be at the front of the queue when the hiring decisions are being made.

Play to your strengths, recognise the economic environment is changing and set out to capitalise on it. You may have been self-unemployed, but right now the prospects for being self-employed are looking better than they have for years.

Recognise this is happening and prepare for it. Revisit your contact list and prospects. Review and update your marketing. Attend more networking events. Step up your social media activity.

You’ve got this far and the tide is turning.

If you recognise any of these things happening in your business, do please post your experience and observations below.

Spain: Corrupt government officials steal £1.5bn EU jobs aid

How the EC is failing to help people get jobs… and squandering our money in the attempt.

On Thursday, buried at the bottom of page 17 of the Daily Telegraph, I came across a truly shocking story which shows how the EC is failing to help people cope with the jobs crisis.

There’s an online version of the story here

Spanish government officials are under investigation by the Spanish anti-corruption police (who must be very busy people), concerning the embezzlement of £1.5bn of EU funds given to Andalusia to help people get back into work.

Back in November 2012 here, I reported (largely negatively) on the announcement by the EC that they were going to use EU funds to stimulate job growth across the Eurozone, particularly in the Southern member states.

I felt that the measures proposed would be ineffectual. Firstly because labour isn't as mobile as economists and politicians would like, and secondly because I felt it would be hugely expensive and inefficient.

But I was wrong. I massively underestimated just how inefficient this policy would be.

The first examples of just how hopeless it has been are now coming to light.

Anti-corruption detectives in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia believe this is the nation’s biggest ever fraud…and in Spain, that's saying something.

£1.5 billion! To write this down in full gives you a sense of the scale. It’s £1,500,000,000. To think about it another way, let’s say you were spending one pound a second, every second of every day. That would equate to £3,600 every hour; £86,400 every day. To spend £1.5 billion would take you 48 years!

Spain: A pretty face hides some nasty secrets

The population of Andalusia is 8.45 million people (2012). That’s roughly the same as the population of New York City. So the total EC grant amounted to an investment of £177 for every man, woman and child in Andalusia. Except they never got it.

So even £1.5 billion shared out amongst a population of 8.45 million isn't a lot. But shared between a few corrupt individuals it's a fortune. By the way, in Spain, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is currently just £15,000 a year.

To sum it all up, we have corrupt officials in Spain helping themselves to money taken from European taxpayers by an unelected suprastate that was intended to help the unemployed in a region hard hit by recession.

And that money has gone. Probably never to be seen again. How much will the police and legal investigation work cost? I don't know but it won't be cheap or quick and will compound the costs of the whole sorry episode.

For more details of this story, please see the Spain Report’s news item here.

If you’re highly qualified, how come you can’t get a job?

By Neil Patrick

How can it be that so many highly skilled people are unemployed, while employers claim they cannot find people with the right skills?

Over the weekend I was reading The Third Industrial Revolution by Jeremy Rifkin. Although this book is about the economic, environmental, technological and social issues we face today, within its covers there is an explanation of this apparent contradiction.

And understanding this is of critical importance to anyone who wishes to prosper in their career over the long term.

We’re on the cusp of a new industrial era

Jeremy Rifkin has identified that industrial epochs are characterized by two determining factors. These are the dominant energy source and communication media.

So, the first industrial era was powered by coal and the prevailing communication medium was the printed word. Society organised itself around these…coal powered transport and industry and provided heat and light to homes and businesses. Print communicated everything from newspapers and novels to instruction manuals and bibles. All were committed to print.

The second industrial era is now in its death throes. This was driven by oil and the dominant communication mediums were radio, television and the telephone. In case you've not noticed, the oil is running out fast and TV and radio have ceased to be the dominant media they were in the last 60 or 70 years. Oh and it seems telephone landlines are becoming less and less popular too.

Rifkin believes that the third industrial era will be based on green energy and the internet. This change will have massive implications for the types of jobs we all do. The effects of the transformation will impact every one of us, not just those working in energy, communications and media. And there is clear evidence in many of the events that have unfolded over the last few years that he is right.

Rifkin even argues convincingly that the current financial crisis was a symptom of the end of the second industrial era, rather than the cause of it.

We’re all potential victims of accelerated obsolescence

So not only are we currently undergoing a transformation of society itself, the technologies which will define our society in the 21st century are undergoing a revolution too.

And because the pace of technological change is accelerating, very few people can assume that their skills will be current for much more than 10 years or so.

Google didn’t exist in 1995. Back then I would search the internet using a long forgotten search engine called Dogpile. Today, if a business doesn’t rank high on Google searches, it’s increasingly invisible and rightly or wrongly judged as second rate.

The credit industry was dominated by credit cards until 2008 and the financial collapse. Try finding a job today if you’re a credit card professional. Despite the credit crunch starting almost 6 years ago, one of the biggest UK credit card issuers, MBNA has been contracting now for years. It currently employs around 3,000 staff, down from 4,224 in 2011.

Yellow Pages was a huge global business for decades. But despite trying to shift its business online, it’s facing an inexorable decline in its relevancy. Not only that, it fails on environmental grounds too. The Product Stewardship Institute claims local governments spend $54 million a year to dispose of unwanted phone books and $9 million to recycle them. Phone books use low grade glues and are therefore difficult to recycle, and they often clog recycling machinery.

There’s no job security in established businesses either

Of course the decline in the fortunes of businesses is nothing new. What is new is that the speed at which a firm can move from established business and secure employer to contraction or even obsolescence. And if your career is tied up with one of them, your skills can become worthless very quickly.

The U.S. Postal Service suffered 30,000 layoffs in March 2010. Sears/K-Mart layed off 50,000 in January 1993. IBM layed off 60,000 in July 1993. And General Motors layed off 47,000 in February 2009. And these are just some of the biggest. For every one like this, there are hundreds of smaller less well reported downsizings and closures.

Organisations are very good at disguising their difficulties right up until the last moment. Are you really tuned in to the real situation at your employer? You need to be.

So if you are planning to work until you are 65 or beyond, you can fully expect that you’ll need to completely reinvent yourself at least 4 or 5 times over during your career. Note that I say ‘reinvent yourself’ not just change jobs…

Peter Weddle makes this comment on the ASQ blog. This is his take on it:

"Today’s turbulent economic environment has changed the way employers fill their vacant positions. Instead of using their traditional approach — hiring a person who is qualified for a job -they have turned to a new strategy that is best described as “talent staffing.” As a result, tens of millions of decent, dedicated and capable people — men and women who have successfully worked their entire lives — are now unemployed, unsuccessful in their search for a new job and unable to figure out why. No one has told them that the rules of the game have changed".

Do not confuse this with the economic downturn

It’s tempting to think that our recent woes are because of the recession. And that if and when things recover, we’ll all be much more secure in our jobs. Think again.

This isn’t a temporary state of affairs, it’s a paradigm shift which will continue to accelerate over the coming years and decades. It is this speed of change which means that often, skills which were cutting edge as recently as four or five years ago, can be obsolete today.

So you need to keep not just your skills but your TALENT up to date. And that’s the crux. If you are employed, you can fully expect that your employer isn’t going to react very enthusiastically to a request for a couple of weeks off work.  You're asking them to pay for you to learn some new stuff that may very well not be relevant to the job you are doing today, but which may be critical to the job you’ll need in say three or four years’ time…

If you are looking for work, you need to understand that employers will only hire individuals who have all of the skills to do a job and the state-of-the-art knowledge required to use those skills effectively on-the-job. They seek better-than-qualified persons to do a job, and they expect superior performance from them and from their first day of work.

This means they expect you to be the custodian of your talent value. That’s down to you not them.

What is talent?

Ironically, even though millions of people in Europe and the US are now unemployed and looking for work, a large percentage of employers believe there is a shortage of individuals with talent. They are quite wrong to think this of course. But perception is reality whether it is right or wrong.

Peter Weddle defines talent thus:

In practice, employers have defined a person of talent to be someone who has one or both of two attributes:

They have a skill that is critical to organizational success and a track record which demonstrates their ability to use that skill effectively on-the-job.


They perform at a superior level on-the-job which sets a standard that encourages their co-workers to upgrade the calibre of their work, as well.

The tragic irony is that employers do little or nothing to help their employees develop and hone their skills and talents for the future. So the moment you get hired is the moment your talent value starts to slowly but inexorably erode. You can be sure that your employers will only invest in you if they perceive a more or less immediate return on that investment.

What can you do about this?

Employers want to hire all-stars. Not just people who are good at what they do, but people who are clearly the best at that task. And the only way you can be such an all-star is if you are working with your talent.

First, make sure you know where your talent lies. Talent is not skill. Talent is an inherent capability, a natural capacity for excellence at a particular type of work. Talent is as individual as you are. But it cannot be universally used. No talent is compatible with all work, but every talent can be expressed in more than one career field. It can be developed to perform in one environment today and another tomorrow. But before you can do that, you have to understand precisely what you are talented at.

Second, make sure you are working in a career field and for an employer that enables you to express your talent. Employers aren’t hiring your skill, they’re hiring what they think will be your total contribution to their organisation. And right now if you have a job and your work isn’t allowing you to demonstrate your true talent, then it’s time to be looking elsewhere, even if you think your current job is OK.

Thirdly if you’ve identified your talent then you must do everything possible to nurture it, especially if you are not able to do this in your normal job. Because this isn’t something you can achieve in a few weeks or months, doing this while you are employed is vital.

Finally, you must step back and take the long view. The prospects for your firm and industry affect you. Directly. Whilst it’s easy to think that when Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, it was an unpredictable event, the truth is that there were signs at least one year earlier that the firm was in financial difficulties. Moreover, five years earlier, in 2003, it had suffered an $80 million penalty from the SEC for using its researchers to unduly influence market prices.

Yes, it’s unfair that the rules of the game have changed. And yes, it’s even more unfair that employers never bothered to tell anyone about it. But if you step back and understand what is going on, you’ll be better equipped to deal with the reality. And if you fully embrace the reality, you’ll seek and find and the work you really love and build a sustainable career with it.

How to get your social media working for you in your job search

By Neil Patrick and Marcia LaReau

What does your online profile tell people about you?

I think by now, everyone knows that when you are job hunting, you need to make sure that your social media profiles contain nothing that might show you in an unfavourable light.

That’s the trouble with social media. Because it’s in the public domain, what you post there can and most likely will be examined by the recruiters and HR people you come into contact with.

Don’t let it ruin your chances of securing that job!

In case you have any doubts about why this is vital, the stark facts are that today, 92% of companies use social media for recruiting and 3 out of 4 recruiters check candidates’ social media profiles at some stage in the recruitment process.

So this isn’t optional anymore. It’s mandatory.

If you want some tips on cleaning things up, this post by David Hunt contains some useful (and amusing) tips on what to do.

But that’s just the first step. You also need to make sure not just that your social media doesn’t embarrass you, but that it works hard for you to make you stand head and shoulders above your competitors.

This means you must understand what recruiters are looking for when they search your social media profiles.

And it’s not what you might think.

Misunderstanding this is what tempts many people into either telling lies on their profiles (especially LinkedIn), or trying too hard to turn their profiles into advertising copy which is full of overblown adjectives about how great they are.

Both of these tactics are a bad idea. Do not fall into the trap!

A commonly overused adjective is the word ‘passionate’. You’ll see it all the time on Linkedin profiles which are trying too hard.

My good friend Marcia LaReau at Forward Motion US explains how this backfires:

“I have a passion for project management.”

Hiring professional thinks:

“Really? Is that the message I’ll find when I check you out online? Is that what you talk about to your FaceBook friends? Is that the kind of books you are reading? Do you go to the PMI chapter meetings? (PMI=Project Management Institute) No? Well … as a hiring professional, I thought you said it was your passion. Hmm … I’m not seeing it so that raises questions for me. I’d better take a closer look.”

So what ARE they looking for?

Simple: hiring professionals are looking for a consistent message. When inconsistent messages are found, it brings up questions that beg for answers.

For fun: Check out some of the FaceBook timeline covers and see if that content matches what the owner indicates they want to do next in their career … be prepared for a shock.

So the good news is that you don’t need to come up with some fancy sales copy, or try and inflate your achievements and status.

Back to Marcia, who provides this great step by step process anyone can follow:

First, answer these questions: 

  • What kind of job do you want? Teacher, Marketing, Theatre Technician, Retail Operations, Medical Office Manager, Finance, Engineering, Business Analyst, Writer? 
  • In what kind of a setting? Large corporation, non-profit, small business, manufacturing? 
  • Do you have specifics about how you work best? Work-at-home, small team, large division, lots of direction, minimal direction? 
  • What is most important to the companies that you want to hire you? Make a list. Don’t be tempted to think you can skip this step. 


Check your cover letter and résumé.Do they both send a message that you are right for the jobs for which you are applying?

  • Find three LinkedIn profiles of people in your industry that are doing what you want to do. The closer the match, the better. Take time with this step. Find people who have been careful with their profile. They should be profiles that make you think, “Wow. I’d like to look like that! I’d hire that person in a second.” Use what you learn to create your profile. 
  • Be completely honest in your content. And remember that hiring professionals look first from 5,000 feet and then focus on what’s most important to them with regard to skills, experience, and cultural fit. 


Positively expand your online image: 

  • What books are you reading about your industry/expertise, career? Not reading – why not? Post on LinkedIn (look at what others in your interest groups are reading.) 
  • What kind of postings are you making on LinkedIn? Stop sharing pictures of animals, brain teasers and other valueless content. Start sharing the insightful content you read about your professional area of interest. 
  • What industry-related meetings do you attend? How about classes you are taking. Share your activities on FaceBook, on LinkedIn, on Twitter. Can’t find a meeting – create one. Get 4 or 5 job-seekers who have your “passion” and meet weekly to keep current in your industry. Check your local Meet-up Groups
  • Check your LinkedIn Groups – are they the groups that relate to your career goals? Are you active in your groups? If not …that’s not good. It sends a mixed message: “I like this stuff, but I’m not really doing much with it.” So much for your “passion”… 
  • Check out your timeline image – what is it saying? It’s a huge first-impression-smack-me-in-the-face message. What’s yours look like? Here’s mine…while you’re there, if you found this information helpful, consider clicking on “Like”. 
  • Do an Internet search on your name and derivatives of your name. If you find unwanted publicity, check out the article on Digital Dirt. 
  • Check your cover letter and resume again to confirm that your online image is consistent with what you send to hiring professionals. 

This is the right way to develop your online image. It doesn’t involve lying, bragging or cheating. Leave that to your competitors, who will get found out.

In the words of a well-known vitamin ad…it’s ’You, but on a good day’.

Dressing for success...suprising secrets from a top model

By Neil Patrick

We live in an age where what we look like plays an unreasonably large part in our life chances. And even though we know that such superficial judgments are morally and rationally wrong, most people still persist with them.

We all know that we have a few seconds when we meet someone new before they decide who we are and what they think about us. If they like how we look, we’ll likely be more successful than if they don’t.

So if you’re a model, you ought to know a thing or two about how what you look like affects how people see you. And it's true, but not perhaps in the way you'd expect.

Being a model is, in the words of Cameron Russell, possible because she won a genetic lottery. She’s 26 years old, tall, slender, has very shiny hair and is white. She spends her time posing in front of cameras so that fashion companies can sell more of their stuff. She has the job that millions of young women aspire to.

Since beginning her modelling career at the age of 16, Russell has worked with numerous successful photographers including Steven Meisel, Craig McDean, and Nick Knight. Her pictures have appeared in Vogue and Numéro. She has featured in advertising campaigns and fashion shows for many fashion companies including Benetton, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Versace, Vivienne Westwood, Ralph Lauren, Victoria's Secret, and Diane von Fürstenberg.

She got into modelling because her mother had a friend who worked at Ford Models and she signed with that agency in 2003. She later moved on to DNA Model Management in 2006, switched to Women Management in 2008, and finally moved to Elite Model Management in 2011.

          Cameron Russell         Credit: F8 at English Wikipedia

This talk by Russell at TEDx demonstrates in the starkest possible way, how the way we look and dress affects how others perceive us.

When originally released, it went viral under the title, "Looks aren't everything...trust me, I'm a model".

It’s actually a kind of reverse makeover. It also shows how the images we see every day in the media are totally manufactured and do not in any way reflect the true nature of the people they depict.

She admits she is insecure and that models are some of the most physically insecure people you will ever meet. Suddenly it doesn’t sound quite such a wonderful career after all…

She has a social conscience too as she shows when she says: "it was difficult to unpack a legacy of gender and racial oppression when I am one of the greatest beneficiaries".

Her work doesn’t make her feel particularly fulfilled and I suspect she is smart enough to realize that she cannot rely on her modelling income to carry her through her thirties and forties, let alone her middle age.

In her own words, she is cashing in on her inheritance. And who can blame her?

So what can we take out of all this? Well first, I think it shows that we shouldn't make presumptions about anyone’s character or capabilities just because they are good looking. Second, that being a model like most jobs has its fair share of drudgery.

And last but not least, sadly there’s no sign that people are going to change their habit of making judgments about any of us based on how we look. But at least we can all choose what we wear.

Your Linkedin profile – why you should tell the truth

By Neil Patrick

Last week, my good friend Axel Kőster at the Manhattan Group and I were chatting about the impact of social media on the recruitment industry.

At one point, Axel mentioned that many of the job applicants’ LinkedIn profiles he sees turn out to contain inaccuracies. Usually they are small, like exaggerating the importance of a project the person worked on. But sometimes they are huge, like alleging a qualification which the person hasn’t actually completed.

He also sees profiles where the person doesn’t list their full employment history. Others add time to show a longer length of stay in their appointment and remove positions which didn’t work out. And one of the most common exaggerations is a more senior title than the person actually held.

And Axel’s experience is verified by research. A study by recruitment firm Employment Office of 300 employers, found 82% of respondents believed candidates lied or exaggerated their skills and experience on their LinkedIn profiles.

The reasons this is happening are many, but most fall under these headings:
  • The jobs market remains fiercely competitive and people will try to squeeze any advantage they can even if that means exaggerating a bit on LinkedIn 
  • Many LinkedIn users approach LinkedIn primarily as a networking tool. Their profiles reflect this approach and if they are not actually job hunting, merely seeking to connect with others, they see no foul in being ‘liberal’ in how they present themselves on LinkedIn. 
  • There are no direct penalties for anyone who chooses to tell lies on their profile. 

This is counter-productive for both applicants AND employers.

How can this be?

Over at the Marketing Eye blog, Mellissah Smith tells this story:

A current employee brought to my attention a previous unpaid intern, who then became a one to two day per week marketing assistant during her University holidays. She was only a casual employee, yet stated the following on LinkedIn: 

I Managed up to 30 clients (the portfolio in that particular office didn’t have 30 clients, she had no management duties whatsoever and was given tasks from time to time, but was strictly a marketing coordinator who at times had the opportunity to put together the first draft of marketing copy, that then went to an in-house writer and marketing manager) 

I Managed up to 8 staff (the office didn’t have 8 staff and certainly as a marketing coordinator, with senior managers and the owner in the office, it is impossible she managed any staff at all). From time to time she gave unpaid interns work to do like following people on Twitter, search engine optimization or even having a go at writing the basis of a marketing strategy, but certainly NEVER did she manage any staff.

Since she left in January, she wrote that she worked fulltime as a marketing coordinator for 1.1 years at Marketing Eye. She has had two jobs since leaving in January – possibly the lies caught up with her but her equally impressive resume continues on LinkedIn. She had fulltime hours for 8 weeks only and that was broken up with 3 weeks holidays which she was not paid for because she was a casual.

So where’s the damage?

If the applicant gets away with their deception, then surely it is the employer’s own fault for not being sufficiently rigorous in their due diligence to verify the accuracy of the claims made? But this isn’t the point. The damage caused goes way beyond the costs of hiring a person whose abilities are not as great as you thought.

How come?

Here’s another case from Mellissah at Marketing Eye:

Last year I hired a person who on paper had exceptional qualifications and upon ringing her last supposed supervisor, received a glowing report.

We employed her, and within days, realised that she had never written a marketing strategy, engaged in any public relations activities, organised the booking of an advertisement, done any social media, direct marketing or any marketing other than working on a trade booth and coordinating companies who put their brands on Coles’ shelves.

Clearly, her reference was a friend and she did not have any experience in marketing. She later admitted to this confirming she took the job because she wanted to gain experience.

At a high-salary level and due to the fact she had worked with big brands, we let her loose after training her on the administrative side of consultancy and helping her get up-to-date with client work. She also took over from an exceptional marketing manager who excelled in every area of marketing and was completely thorough in every aspect of working with clients and in her hand-over – which made the issue even bigger.

The result: We lost clients, our reputation was in tatters with the clients she was let loose on and with some people, we will never be able to buy back that perception of our brand.

Inaccurate LinkedIn profiles do untold damage to employers and their reputations. 

The stakes are clearly high for employers. It is imperative that they do not place too much faith in a LinkedIn profile and must carry out thorough verification of the facts before hiring a candidate, even if their references are glowing.

But it goes beyond merely the hiring process. Your former employees haver the potential to do damage to your reputation AFTER they have left your organisation. So there’s a good argument for keeping on tabs on what your previous employees say on LinkedIn they did whilst they worked for you.

But what are the risks for employees of lying? 

There are no obvious downsides are there? I’d argue to the contrary:

Unlike your resume, everyone can see your LinkedIn profile … whereas the only people who see your resume are the people you choose to send it to. So if you are lying on LinkedIn you are much more likely to be found out.

Your LinkedIn profile must be treated with care and attention. Just as a sloppy profile suggests poor attention to detail, an incorrect one brings your trustworthiness into question. You are declaring to the world that this is who I am, this is my experience and these are my accomplishments.

Once you have been exposed as being careless with how you present yourself, your status as a diligent professional is at once brought into question. And that’s not helpful if you make your living based on your skills and credibility…

Finally, make no mistake that employers and recruiters are both getting wise to such tricks. LinkedIn lies might get you onto a short list, or even an interview… but you are more and more likely to get found out as recruitment processes adjust to close down this weakness. Don’t waste your time and other people’s…it will do you no good in the long run.

As for employers, it is clear that:

It’s your reputation that your former employees are representing on their LinkedIn profile. When they move to their next employer, it’s your brand that they are ambassadors of. Do you really wish to be seen as a business that for whatever reason hires untrustworthy individuals?

In this increasingly connected world, it makes sense to think not just about your own business, but the wider business community you are a part of. It pays to be a responsible citizen. By taking the time to do thorough reference checks, you are not only protecting yourself, you are also doing your bit to expose those who try to cheat and make them think twice about continuing with their deceptions.

Last, but not least, the internet is as good or as bad as the behaviours of the people that use it. See yourself as part of the solution, not a perpetuator of the problem. So, next time you are considering giving someone an endorsement on LinkedIn, ask yourself, ‘Do I really know this person deserves this?’

If you have experience of or opinions about this topic, do please share them below.

What’s the real cost of ageism?

 By Neil Patrick and Dean Goranson

The debate about the relationship between employee age and business performance has been going on for ever. But the recent economic turmoil and its after effects on young and old alike have resulted in the topic surfacing again. It’s time to ditch the prejudices.

Employer attitudes can be summarised as:

Younger workers are cheaper to hire, have more up-to-date skills – especially in the area of technology and have more energy and dynamism. They also have lower reliability and significantly less loyalty.

Older workers stick around for much longer than their younger peers. They attain greater mastery of their work and have higher interpersonal skills. But they are also more expensive, less energetic and struggle with today’s technology.

This simplified view distorts the real question. There is no simple correlation between employee age and business performance. Having an older or younger workforce doesn’t automatically make your business perform better or worse. Neither does providing a great working environment result in greater staff loyalty.

The surprising truths about age and employee retention

According to the PayScale report, the Fortune 500 company with the highest median employee tenure (20 years) is Eastman Kodak. More than half of its employees are older than 50. Over the five years through 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, it delivered an average return on assets of negative 12%...

Another myth is that creating a great working environment and culture for staff increases loyalty.

The perks Google lays on for its youthful employees are the stuff of legend. Free gourmet food all day, the best health insurance plan anywhere, five months' paid maternity leave, kindergartens and gyms at the workplace, the freedom to work on one's own projects 20 percent of the time, even death benefits. The tech behemoth has topped Fortune Magazine's list of best companies to work for every year since 2007.

Despite this, Google ranks amongst those with the highest employee turnover rates. The median employee tenure at Google is just over one year, according to the payroll consultancy PayScale.

The simple truths are staring us in the face

So what are businesses to do? If you hire younger people, you are burdened with higher turnover rates. If your workforce is older, you risk stagnation and loss of competitive edge.

A friend of mine, Dean Goranson has provided a valuable perspective which I provide below. It’s a simple tale about his experiences when seeking to get his watch strap repaired.

Here’s Dean’s tale:

A while back I had somehow managed to break the watch band on my high end wrist watch. I finally got tired of running around with it in my pocket, so one day I decided to go down to the mall and check out the jewellery stores to either get it fixed or replaced.

The first store I stopped in, I showed the young lady my watch. She took it to her manager. He asked if I had purchased the watch in their store. I said , ”No”. He replied, "I'm sorry it's the store’s policy to only work on Items we sell from here." I then asked, "Isn't that the style of watch you have in your display case?" "Well yes" was this young man’s reply "but we don't service anything we haven't sold. Perhaps you should try that watch band kiosk across from us." This young manager who must of been well on the south side of thirty was definite in his conviction of his being right. Consumer experience was nowhere to be found on his radar screen. So off to the kiosk to see if I would have any better luck there.

The experience with the young lady who also appeared to be well on the south side of thirty turned out to be quite similar to the first store I had stopped at. I asked if she thought she could fix my watch band. "No, I'm afraid I can't. We only sell watch bands and put them on for the customer and I don't have anything that nice. I have an imitation leather if you want me to put that on for you?" I declined and bid her adieu. I really started to feel like this was becoming a quest by this point with no easy answers, yet on I trudged to the next jewellery store.

At the third store I was confronted by another well under thirty something young fella. I showed him the watch and asked if they could fix it "Let me get my manager." The manager is summoned. Another under 30 something, he takes a look at the watch and say's "Let’s see what my jeweller can do with this." so over to the jewellers station we go he looks at it and say's " I'm not going to be able to fix this band." the manager then asks " Do we have any watch bands in the store to replace this?' They look and no can do. "Well, I guess we'll need to call home office to order a replacement."

The manager asked the jeweller to call home office for the order, the jeweller came back and said he couldn't get home office on the phone. The manager then asked, "Let me get your phone number and I will call you as soon as I find out something." At least this young manager was trying to make my experience worthwhile but his operation was in such a state of chaos that he couldn't make it happen. So off I went disappointed and frustrated.

By now I was a bit dejected at not being able to either get my watch band fixed or replaced. 

Walking past the fourth jewellery store, I happened to look in and behind the counter were a couple of ladies. They were well up in age - the grey hair, the glasses and thick figures. I thought to myself what the heck, let’s see if they have any ideas.

Into the store I go and ask these two women, "I've got a broken watch band is there anything you can do with it?" "Let me see it," the white haired gal asked. "We've only just started selling this brand of watch; you’ve had yours for a while haven't you?" "Yes I have." I could tell in her mind she was fussing over what her next move was going to be. "Let’s take this over to Bill and see what he has to say".

So over to Bill we go who turns out to be their manager. He too is older and greying. The lady explains the situation to him and asks what they could do to help me. Bill looks at me and says " Technically I'm not supposed to work on a watch we haven't sold to a customer, the upper management has the fear we will get sued by someone who claims we broke their stuff." “You wouldn't do something like that if I worked on your watch would you?" I said "It's already broken, what have I got to lose."

Bill then asks," Where did your watch fit on your wrist before the band broke?" I showed him and he said "Let me try something." He took my watch over to another counter and came back in a couple of minutes and said "See if that fits over your hand?" My watch fits better now than it did before I broke the band. Bill even refused to charge for the repair.

A few weeks later it was a good friend’s birthday. And I bought her some diamond earrings. Did I shop around? No I just went straight back to Bill…

Horses for courses

Dean’s experience is not research data of course. It’s no more or less than a personal experience. But I am sure it is one that most of us can relate to and have probably shared.

In the effort to improve on profits, what ends up being missed is the consumer experience - the part which keeps the customer coming back for more and recommending the business to others. This hinges on those people the business owner has retained to be the company’s representatives to the public. The higher the quality service the customer receives, the better the results for the business.

As Dean’s story relates, the different levels of service received directly influenced his purchase behaviour now and probably for many years to come. An older employee might be well past the dynamic approach of their youth. But today, youthful distractions are behind them. They have the rich experience of what quality service and customer care really mean.

It seems to me that it’s time to forget the over-simplistic and pointless debate of young versus old. What we need is a simple recognition that age in and of itself is not the issue. Skills and attitudes are what matter. If you want to give your customers excellent service, there is a strong argument for hiring older people. And even if they are slightly more expensive, you’ll recover these costs in longer tenure and enhanced customer loyalty. If you need the sort of perspective that the young have and can afford to replace them frequently, then hire young people. But don’t expect there’s anything you can do to keep them for long.

Let’s not be trapped by the pointless argument about which is better. The key to getting the best business results is about understanding the distinct merits of young and old, making hiring decisions on the value of each and the requirements of the role regardless of the candidate’s age.