Coffee catchups and career advice in the digital age
By: Rob McGillen
Today is an auspicious day! The US professional football championship game (The Super Bowl) will be played this Sunday and watched by many millions around the world. Also today is the beginning of the Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year), during which over a billion people will celebrate the start of the Year of the Monkey.
More over, my experience has shown today is informal start to the professional ‘job seeking season’, as companies advise staff of their future employment at the close of 2015 books, combined with college graduates soon to be entering the work force seek their first post.
After 20 years of hiring people, my sense of the season change is almost tidal: the increase in the frequency of resume pass-through from contacts, the pings on LinkedIn, and the jump in coffee shop catch up invitations are good indicators of the shift. Best guess is I have helped hire directly or indirectly 500+ positions in the past two decades. Most has been between the months of February and June.
This year for me things are different and starting earlier. As the founder and CEO of a technology start-up, my inbox content on the hiring topic has jumped dramatically.
Queries are up about whether I am hiring, and what I am looking for in the new business. The simple answer is ‘ I am always hiring’.
I am continuously looking to meet people who can help my team grow and achieve our mutual goals. The questions of passion (why), timing (when) and role (what) are usually the key points of discussion in my dialogs with potential candidates (or those seeking help through my network in landing their new position).
The conversations (and coffee catchups) I am taking usually have a component of advice for the job seeker, as they seek my opinion on their experiences and what they should be considering in their search. Below a collection of my experiences from the ‘hiring side’ of the table, and may help in the search for those ahead. While not unique in individual thoughts, my priority may surprise a few.
1. Networking matters. While many job advice blogs start with a resume, my focus has been and remains on the networking aspect of candidates. Being visible in the community I work and socialize in, sharing a cup of coffee or story at a gathering, and providing advice or help unbidden to others are key traits I look for. When I see someone helping connect two people at a group event, I see a future candidate. When I talk with someone who does not care about my title or company because they are so passionate about the topic, I see a future team member. In these social settings I am listening to people and observing their actions, and remember who stood out. Those are the people I gravitate towards in my hiring protocol.
2. Be true to you. There is a ton of reading on ‘being authentic’ found on the Internet. There is a reason for that – most of us get stressed out at the prospect of seeking a new job, then finding the confidence to ‘sell’ yourself to a new employer. You can sense this in the interview room and sometimes even in the emails before and after. My advice – be you. Whoever you are – be that person when we meet (and every day after!) Some of my most amazing colleagues did not come to the interview polished (some didn’t even know we were interviewing), nor perfect in their diction, poise, or follow ups. I want to know who I am going to be working with every day – not ‘super you’ on the best day.
3. Have an (informed) opinion, not just a biography Often time I sit in an interview and the candidate will launch into their career story and focus on two or three major accomplishments they achieved. I try to slow that roll and shift to ‘why’ they have opinions on a topic which are germane to my business needs. While we all want to fit in and get hired, those who have an opinion and stand by it will be the leading candidates we consider. I should qualify what ‘informed opinion’ means: do the research, live the experience, tell the tale of what you have learned and why you feel that way. Share with me your thoughts and experiences and help me understand why you see things that way.
4. Do your homework on our business, just don’t be weird about it If you are at a point where you are conducting a face to face (or video call to video call) interview, please ensure you have done the homework on your potential employer. Show you understand the company vision (as best shared online), the key services or products they provide, and (if known) the prevailing market opinion on the companies’ performance and value in the market. While this seems like an obvious bit of advice, it is amazing to me how many times I had to explain what my prior business did (even at fairly senior levels) before we got into the core of the interview.
One related bit of advice: research on a company is good, research on interviewers (eg. social media sleuthing) – needs to be handled with care. Knowing names, backgrounds, potential connections in common, and prior work experiences is what LinkedIn is for (and I will be watching to see if you do any background on me before we meet). Pinging me on social networks outside of the work environment will be weird and something I will note in my hiring choices.
5. Put the smart phone away. Really. After you arrive at the interview location, please switch the phone off and put it away in a bag or pocket for the duration of the meeting. While this was a mini phenomenon a few years ago – I see it happen all the time now. Please do not give me the impression that you would rather be elsewhere or have a more important matter than our time together. Both our time is valuable, and the possibility that you might treat a future client or colleague of our business that way worries me before we even get to an offer!
6. If you are in transition, own it and show me you are growing on your journey We have all gone through transitions (career or otherwise) in our lives, and it is not something to be shy about (nor spend half our time talking about). We are coming together to discuss what you are interested in doing next and how your experiences can help us both grow together. I will be curious what you are doing to learn new skills, how you are exploring what matters to you next in your career, and listening to your passions in life. I believe in aligning passionate people with new opportunities, show me what you are doing to grow!
7. Last, on that resume. Your LinkedIn profile and professional social media presence is your primary resume in my world. Your blog posts, the announcements on third party websites where you have spoken, been recognized, participated, or contributed are all part of the analysis. Your self-written resume should be an echo of those digital markers and bring the ‘story of you’ together.
Best advice I have been given on making a resume impactful: think JJ Abrahams or Robert Redford is making a movie trailer based on your resume and summarizing in 60 seconds or less. What are the resume ‘beats’ and highlights that help move along our conversation and illustrate how you are well qualified.
In summary, the job seeking (and coffee catchup) season is now here, and I look forward to helping others connect to their passionate next role (with my firm or elsewhere) this year! May you find what you seek this year for your career, and have an exciting Year of the Monkey!