How to be perceived as a real leader

By Neil Patrick

Leadership is the number one competency employers seek today – but how can you prove you have it?

I've been investigating the data about the most desirable competencies employers are seeking today. Here is's list of the top 10 professional attributes that employers want to see in their employees, in order of importance:

1. Leadership skills

2. Interpersonal skills

3. Problem-solving skills

4. Self-motivation

5. Efficient

6. Detail-oriented

7. The ability to prioritize

8. Team player

9. Reliable

10. The ability to multitask

The list wasn’t particularly surprising. I suspect most people could second guess most of this even if it might be a little harder to guess the exact priority order the data reveals.

But the question this prompted in my mind was:

“If leadership skills are the most desirable competency, how can an employer discover what an applicant’s true leadership skills are and more importantly, fairly assess and rank competing candidates against this criteria?”

Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama in 2014 by Pete Souza 

Mike Sweeny at MAS Recruiting provides this answer to the question:

Organizations use a variety of assessment tests and/or tools to attempt to determine leadership as well as other personality traits in candidates. Overall, the results are very mixed.

Recruiting is not an exact science. You can't "test" your way to hiring people with strong leadership skills. I advise your hiring team to focus on a candidate's leadership track record. Ask each candidate to relate how they demonstrated leadership in various scenarios during their job history. Prior to the interview, have your team develop specific examples that relate to the job at hand. For example, the position being interviewed for may be a production supervisor in a manufacturing facility that has a poor quality record. During the interview session, have your team probe candidates to discuss their history at solving similar problems.

Past work history, combined with solid reference checking, is the best way to hire people with leadership skills. Assessment test may provide additional data to help in your hiring decision, but they are no substitute for probing past work history.

Fair enough, but this approach has several weaknesses:

1. Only candidates selected for interview are assessed against the number one competency

2. The measures are subjective and not quantifiable

3. References are unlikely to be able or willing to provide a great deal of reliable data on this characteristic, they after all are unlikely to have any data which records, let alone quantifies their employees’ leadership skills.

So job seekers are left with a quandary:

The number one most desirable personal attribute has no independent meaningful measure attached to it. And this means there is little we can do to provide independent verification of our leadership competencies.

To look at this in another way, there is no way currently in which HR and recruiters can reliably measure candidates against their most desired attribute.

This is a catastrophe. Especially when we consider that real leaders are not usually those who shout the loudest about themselves. The greatest leaders influence not by shock and awe tactics, but by a consistent influence, inspiring those around them by their behaviours and attitudes in a humble and collaborative way.

But there’s good news. Things are changing and they are the greatest opportunity yet for employees to demonstrate their leadership in a way that no-one can ignore.

Time and again, it is repeated that job seeking is a sales and marketing job, and the most successful candidates approach it in this way.

The rise and rise of digital and social media and ‘big data’ (I promise that’s the last time I’ll mention that in this post) are at last reshaping how HR and recruiters approach their hiring processes.

This revolution is having profound impacts. And it has given rise to something that it’s of immense value to marketers and job seekers alike.

It’s called social proof.

Businesses now use this all the time to prove their credibility in their online and offline marketing. The types of proof vary according to the nature of the business. And the immense value of social proof is deployed within the marketing tactics of most leading businesses today.

Hotels and restaurants covet their user ratings on online media. Writers seek favorable reviews of their books on Amazon. And at a more personal level, we all wish to achieve and retain a good feedback score from our buyers on Ebay.

The huge value of social proof resides in that it reflects what others think of us, not what we say or think about ourselves.

HR and recruiters are at last waking up to the potential this unlocks for them to get better and more quantifiable insight about candidates.

And it’s not rocket science to work out what this means.

Let’s work through a simple example. Faced with two otherwise identical candidates, which person would you assess as having the greater leadership skills?

Person A

  • LinkedIn : 800 connections, 12 recommendations and 250 endorsements
  • Twitter : Following 300 people, followed by 1500 people
  • Klout score : 60

Person B

  • LinkedIn : 200 connections, 1 recommendation and 30 endorsements
  • Twitter : Following 750 people, followed by 150
  • Klout score : 35

At this point I am sure that some of you will be howling in protest along the lines of, “these measures are unreliable and misleading because…” (place your protest of choice here).

And I would probably agree with your arguments assuming they relate to the facts that these measures are all prone to weakness and exploitation or gaming.

But I’d remind you of my opening point:

Presently there is no measure of leadership that is helping recruiters and employers reliably assess, measure and compare candidates against their expressed number one competency – leadership.

Yes the metrics I have selected are flawed. Yes they can be manipulated – (if you spend a really long time doing so) and yes they don’t tell the whole story.

But in the absence of anything better, what will employers do? My prediction is that these metrics will become more and more important. And therefore we ignore them at our peril.

As I have said repeatedly here and elsewhere, there’s no quick fix. The only way to capitalize on this situation for employees and job seekers is to invest steadily in building your online profile.

And for most of us this means a fundamental reassessment of how we prioritize our daily tasks. Yes it’s another thing to add to your already too long to do list. Yes it won’t deliver instant results. But it’s the only way you’ll become person A instead of person B.

Like it or not, your whole career future may hinge on this.

Why more and more people are dishonest on their resumes

By Neil Patrick

Are you more honest than a banker? Under what circumstances would you lie, or cheat, and what effect does your deception have on society at large?

Over the last couple of weeks, I've looked at the rise and rise of lying. Specifically on LinkedIn and then last week on resumes.

And I suggested why I thought this might be happening. But I’m not a psychologist and I wanted to understand better why people lie about themselves more and more in their professional life.

After a little more research, I think I have found some answers. And here’s what I think is going on.

Most people are mostly honest most of the time

There are very few out and out frauds and cheats. People who deliberately set out to deceive and cheat at every single opportunity. Equally, there are very few people who are scrupulously honest in every single aspect of their lives. And if you don’t believe me, think about the last time a friend or spouse asked you for feedback on something they had made or done. Are you always brutally honest?

Of course you are not…your wish to make the other person feel good (or at least not so bad) far outweighs your worries about being slightly deceitful in your response. Which brings us to the second point which is that: 

Lying is circumstantial

The situation we are presented with may increase or decrease our propensity to lie or gild the truth. And the factor which has a profound effect on this is the perceived distance between our actions and the people that our lies affect. The greater the perceived distance and noise that obscures our vision, the greater our propensity to lie.

In the job hunting situation, this is why so many lies are exposed at interviews. It’s much easier to tell a lie on LinkedIn or our resume, than it is to repeat that lie face to face when questioned about it. The evidence shows that time again, when challenged face to face, people ‘fess up.

The growth of digital media opens up our ability to communicate with more and more people. But it also creates a sense of greater separation between us and others when for example we are looking for a new job. If we see a job vacancy online, do we feel as close to the employer as we’d do if we saw a card in a shop window asking for new staff to help out? 

We try to rationalise our lies

Most people wish to think of themselves as being good and honest. But when the temptation to lie becomes too great to resist, we try to make ourselves feel better about it, through rationalization. Like, saying to ourselves, “How much harm can it really do?”, or “It’s not really anything much”.

The stakes influence our choices

In a low stakes situation, our propensity to lie is also low. But as the stakes increase, so the propensity to lie does also. And if we are desperate for any reason to get a new job, the stakes are high. So our propensity to tell lies is increased. Ironically, this fact actually supports the choice that recruiters and HR people often make to choose only from the ranks of those currently in jobs. I still don’t think it justifies such a policy, but it does have this attraction to employers.

The stakes were also high in the financial world pre the 2008 collapse. The distance between the lies and those it affected were great. The actions which we now know caused the collapse could be rationalized however spuriously. So we had a perfect set of conditions for cheating. Overlay incentives which reward the wrong behaviors and we have the perfect recipe for the 2008 meltdown.

Online job applications and Linkedin are a perfect set of conditions to encourage lies

Looked at in these ways, the epidemic of resume and Linkedin lies can be explained and understood: 

  • The deception is thought of as small and therefore can be justified 
  • The distance between the liar and the people it harms is seen as great 
  • The rewards for getting away with it are high 

And last but not least, if we are told that everyone is doing it, then there’s a peer pressure effect which creates a vicious circle. If everyone else is cheating, then I need to as well, or I'll be disadvantaged.

What do you think? Are we headed towards an ever increasing downward spiral of lies, or is there a hope for a return to greater truthfulness? And if so, how might it be achieved in the digital age…? Do please post any thoughts below.

I'll return to this topic again after I have gathered some reactions and ideas.

Finally here’s some really insightful background from Dan Ariely, one of the world's leading authorities on human motivation and behavior, which amongst many other insights explains just why so many financial people deceived us and themselves for so long.

Why it’s time for zero tolerance on resume lies

By Neil Patrick

There's a growing and hard to spot threat to recruitment and employers' carefully developed talent acquisition programmes. It's called lying...

Back in April I posted here about the damage that lies on Linkedin cause employers and employees.

So I was really interested today to discover that CareerBuilder had completed a survey recently to look in detail at the subject of the lies people tell on their resumes.

And the findings suggest that telling lies on Linkedin is just the tip of the iceberg. I always knew that a lot of people stretch the truth on their resumes, but I was wholly unprepared to find out that resume lies are now an epidemic…

The nationwide survey, which was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder included a sample of 2,188 hiring managers and human resource professionals across all industries and company sizes.

So the sample is large and the findings can therefore be relied upon to be representative of the current state of affairs.

58% of hiring managers said they’ve caught an outright lie on a resume. One-third of these employers have seen an increase in resume ‘embellishments’ post-recession. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story as I’ll explain shortly. For now, let’s look at some of the evidence…

Most Common Resume Lies

The first interesting finding is what people lie about.

There are some fabrications job seekers try to slip past employers more frequently than others. And it seems that what gets lied about most are the things which the applicants think (a) are most difficult to verify and (b) most likely to increase their chances of being hired. According to the survey respondents, the most common lies they catch on resumes relate to:

Embellished skill set – 57%
Embellished responsibilities – 55%
Dates of employment – 42%
Job title – 34%
Academic degree – 33%
Companies worked for – 26%
Accolades/awards – 18%

It's not really surprising that skills are the top of the table. After all, if I say I know how to use a particular piece of software, I know that you’re almost never going to test me on it. And if the day comes when I need to actually use it, I’ll have an excuse about it, like “I used the older version” or, “ I never used this particular function”.

But some of these lies are so crazy, you have to wonder what the applicant was thinking…

When asked about the most unusual lie they’ve ever caught on a resume, employers recalled: 
  • Applicant included job experience that was actually his father’s. Both father and son had the same name (one was Sr., one was Jr.). 
  • Applicant claimed to be the assistant to the prime minister of a foreign country that doesn’t have a prime minister. 
  • Applicant claimed to have been a high school basketball free throw champion. He admitted it was a lie in the interview. 
  • Applicant claimed to have been an Olympic medalist. 
  • Applicant claimed to have been a construction supervisor. The interviewer learned the bulk of his experience was in the completion of a doghouse some years prior. 
  • Applicant claimed to have 25 years of experience at age 32. 
  • Applicant claimed to have worked for 20 years as the babysitter of known celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Madonna, etc. 
  • Applicant listed three jobs over the past several years. Upon contacting the employers, the interviewer learned that the applicant had worked at one for two days, another for one day, and not at all for the third. 
  • Applicant applied to a position with a company who had just terminated him. He listed the company under previous employment and indicated on his resume that he had quit. 
  • Applicant applied twice for the same position and provided different work history on each application. 

Industries Most Likely to Report Catching Resume Lies

The survey found that employers in the following industries catch resume lies more frequently than average: 

Financial Services – 73%
Leisure and Hospitality – 71%
Information Technology – 63%
Health Care (More than 50 employees) – 63%
Retail – 59%

At first glance, it appears that old habits die hard in the financial sector. Despite all the extra regulation, penalties, media shame and criminal proceedings, the financial workers seem unwilling to give up their devious ways of going about things. But hang on, is it perhaps quite the opposite story here…i.e. the financial sector has had to get it’s house in order and is being a lot more vigilant today than the other sectors? I don’t know, but it’s a distinct possibility in my view.

Employers are leaving themselves wide open to exploitation

Career Builder reported that employers may be taking more time looking over individual resumes. 42% of employers said they spend more than two minutes (Wow! –Ed.) reviewing each resume, up from 33% in December.

Two minutes…I cannot imagine that the IRS would manage to uncover a financial fraud in less than two weeks, so employers are hardly giving themselves chance to catch the tricksters it seems. We all know what the excuses are; we’re too busy, we get so many applications etc.

The trouble is that like all fraud, the incidence rises in proportion to the chances of getting away with it. And right now it’s a free for all it seems.

These stats also don’t tell the whole story I suspect. If employers are asleep on their watch, there are a whole lot more lies getting past them that they never discovered and which consequently won’t appear in any of these stats.

What’s more, only half of employers (51%) said that they would automatically dismiss a candidate if they caught a lie on his/her resume, while 40% said that it would depend on what the candidate lied about. 7% said they’d be willing to overlook a lie if they liked the candidate.

With odds like these, I’m almost tempted to say telling lies on your resume is a worthwhile job search strategy. But I won’t because it does no-one any good in the long run and I hate lies, whoever tells them.

I think this is a loud alarm bell for everyone in the business of hiring. There’s a huge threat emerging to your talent acquisition programme or whatever you call it and you need to tackle it right now. Moreover, a huge prize awaits whoever can be the first to produce an effective resume verification software platform...

What’s the best way to write your LinkedIn Profile?

By Neil Patrick

The web is full of opinions about the best way to write your LinkedIn profile. And they mostly make one big mistake. They assume that there is a single ‘correct’ way…

Last night I enjoyed a great debate with two friends who I think are well qualified to give an expert view about the best way to write a LinkedIn profile.

One has over 10,000 connections on LinkedIn, so you might call him a power user. The other is a full time professional resume writer and LinkedIn profile writer.

Our discussion was all about the best way to present a LinkedIn profile. Is there a single best way, or does it depend on the individual, i.e. different strokes for different folks?

Should it be written in the first or third person?

Of course we’ve all read and written a good deal about the best way to write a LinkedIn profile. We also have between us many years' experience of helping others with their profiles. So we compared notes and experiences and set out to debate some of these ideas and hopefully arrive at some fresh conclusions.

The debate started with the question, ‘What’s best, writing a LinkedIn profile in the first person, i.e. I am..., or the third person, i.e. he/she is...?

We focused not on the mechanics of content as an SEO-orientated writer might, but rather the impression a profile makes on its readers. At the core of this question is a dilemma:

How can we show off our accomplishments and expertise without sounding conceited and frankly like a bit of a jerk?

The first opinion that tumbled out was that if someone is making great claims about their successes, and uses the first person, then the reader is given one of two impressions. Either, if they have reason to trust the profile, they believe it and think “Wow, this person is a real high flyer”. However, if they are a more skeptical reader, they are inclined to think, “What an arrogant show off…I don’t believe half this stuff!”

But if we have genuinely achieved some amazing things in our careers, then it’s only right that we should present them on our LinkedIn profile. So how can we do this without appearing conceited?

Using the third person dissolves skepticism

We felt that in this case, using the third person is a better tactic. Whilst we still may never satisfy the biggest skeptics, at least our profile reads as if it were written by someone other than ourselves. So that’s a way to appear less conceited. The downside however is that it makes us appear less approachable and somewhat aloof. But if you have a great many outstanding achievements in your career, this may be the best compromise.

Facts are facts, adjectives are merely opinions

The second idea we debated was the issue of fact vs. opinion. I happen to believe that a fact-based profile is a good choice for those who have significant career accomplishments.

So what’s a fact-based profile? Well it contains nothing but simple facts of course. It doesn't have hyped-up meaningless adjectives like ‘driven, results-focused, inspiring, dynamic’. As I wrote about here, I think these words are really dangerous, unless they can be backed up by independent evidence.

If you say you are dynamic, what is your metric for measuring that? Compared to whom are you dynamic? Might it just be a lazy way of trying to spin the fact that, “I get bored easily, rush about and neglect details?" So the best way to turn this weakness into a strength is to say I’m ‘dynamic’? Sorry I’m not convinced!

So the second point is that adjectives are really risky. Careless use of ones which are simply there to puff up the impression you create can very easily do the exact opposite and just make you look arrogant and/or sloppy.

But I really am an authority and expert…

But let’s say you are a genuinely highly respected expert in your field and people think very highly of you. Well don’t say it yourself, use what others have said instead. Eg. ‘Described by xyz magazine as one of the foremost thinkers on renewable energies’. Doesn't that sound a whole lot better than, ‘I’m a leading authority and expert on renewable energies.’?

You might be thinking, "that’s fine, but no-one has written anything favorable about me ever." Really? I think you are deceiving yourself. Think back to your appraisals when you were given positive feedback. Remind yourself about how you were introduced last time you spoke at a big meeting or conference. Think hard enough and you’ll find plenty of true and relevant material.

It's a fact. Most people just don’t give enough thought to their profiles. They rush through them, eager to get on to the next task in their to do list. Don’t. Give it quality time and care. But don’t worry you have to get it perfect from the start. Make it as good as you can. And come back to it to refine it when you next have some downtime.

Early stage career people can still have content rich profiles

The third point was that for those people who are early on in their careers, they’ve simply not had enough time to rack up extensive accomplishments. But even so, there’s still plenty of keyword rich material you can use in your profiles. Like the name of the software you used on your final year college project; the name of the business you worked for in your summer vacation, the cities you spent time in during your gap year.

The bottom line we concluded is that there is no ‘correct’ one size fits all answer. And then because we all had beers in hand, our discussion turned to other subjects not so relevant to this blog!

So next time you read a load of tips about the best LinkedIn profile, I hope these points help give you some perspective. If you agree or disagree with anything in the post, do please post your thoughts in the comments below.

Why you should think twice about taking a job with a huge bonus plan

By Neil Patrick

We work to earn money. And the more money we earn, the happier we will be. Well not quite.

Research shows that the happiest and most productive workers are not the ones who are given the largest bonuses, but the ones who are given the greatest autonomy and freedom of choice in how they go about their work.

There’s a nasty secret about businesses which pay large bonuses. The giveaway is if these bonuses are linked to sales and/or profits. The companies that do this, even if they are completely legal and ethical are sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

Of course businesses must make profits. And they often reflect this by using monetary incentives to give greater rewards to those who make the most profit. But here’s what’s strange. Studies have shown all over the world that greater monetary reward for success with cognitive tasks result in poorer performance.

Huh? How can this be?

The tests have been repeated in different nations, in different types of business and at different levels of employee. And the results have been exactly the same. Greater monetary rewards result in worse performance.

There’s a qualifier though. This only applies when pay is high enough for it not to be a factor. If people are paid enough so that they don’t need to worry about paying their bills, they exhibit this behaviour. If they are struggling to make ends meet, then it doesn’t apply. So this is clearly not an argument to reduce pay. In fact it’s an argument to pay people well, but not to incentivise them with huge monetary bonuses for sales and/or profits.

The most obvious business where this behaviour is the norm is the financial and banking sector. And the collapse of 2008 is strongly associated with behaviors which were influenced by excessive monetary rewards. The provision of large bonuses linked to profit directly led to an increase in bad things. Like making riskier loans, interfering with exchange rates and miss-selling products which customers didn’t want or need. And as these behaviours continued unchecked over years, we all know what happened next.

I’m not arguing against bonuses. What I am arguing is which behaviours these bonuses reward and encourage.

What the studies show is that when work is cognitively based rather than manual, performance declines when simple productivity bonuses are applied. This is explained by the fact that encouraging profit seeking behaviours at the individual level, leads to worse products and services. Corners are cut. Quality is reduced. Prices are inflated.

But this age old practice is now being increasingly challenged. Giving things away for free. Not crappy incentives like pens or free monthly trials of software, but a whole service. Like Skype. Or Twitter. There are of course plenty of people who will argue that Twitters’ IPO was way overvalued. That the whole social media explosion is a bubble which must burst. But the cat is out of the bag now. Regardless of what happens to these businesses, there’s no turning back.

Business sustainability depends on growth and profit. That remains as true today as it has always been. But also at the base of the most sustainable businesses is customer satisfaction, goodwill and preference. The question is how should businesses reward and recognise their staff in the pursuit of these goals?

Monetary reward for greater profits isn’t the answer, at least in the long term. Ensuring the business consistently delights its customers is.

If you want a job with huge bonuses for the sales and profits you deliver and you can get it, that’s fine. Just don’t plan on the business surviving long enough for you to receive your bonus more than a few times…

If you’d like to see a little more about the research on this topic, this RSA video by Dan Pink is a really insightful watch…