Category Archives: elevator speech

Job search: Are you missing in action?

Off the radar

Getting on the job search radar!
I have spent the past week with two different women, of two different ages. Their backgrounds could not be further apart. One is a young graduate, seeking entry-level employment, the other a woman in her 40s, with extensive supply chain and procurement experience, as well as an MBA. She has taken an eight year parenting break, relocated internationally with her husband and is now dealing with the inevitable challenge of explaining motherhood and her CV gap.

Both want to enter the workplace. Both are struggling. Both are drifting off the job search track and are M.I.A. Despite feeling they had nothing in common, even just idle chat reveals the numerous common elements. Not only were they simply failing to get the jobs they wanted ( when they could even find a job they were interested in) they were receiving no response to their CVs, sometimes not even a rejection letter.

Back on track
All job search candidates regardless of age, gender or time in life need to have some basics in place, so here are some easy tips to get back on track:

  •  Identify and articulate transferable skills. It doesn’t matter how you do this but this is a critical exercise, taking time and thought. I repeat my mantra – if you don’t know what you’re good at, how do you expect anyone else to know? Recruiters and hiring managers are not telepathic and don’t have the time to drag it out of you.
  •  This basic but critical exercise leads to the creation of an effective mission statement and elevator sounds bites. CVs should stop disappearing into cyber space and interview performance will be strengthened. If there is any hesitation in delivering your USPs – practise and practise again!
  •   Establish and develop a professional online presence. This is vital for anyone, male or female, young or old, entry-level or transitioning. Failure to do this is tantamount to professional suicide. The entry-level woman had received no advice from her university careers advisor to create this type of profile, which in my view is a scandal in itself! Careers advisors – read my open letter! The older candidate needs to resurrect and tap into her existing network from her days as a professional woman and connect with them virtually on platforms which simply did not exist when she was in the workplace ( LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +) This small step shows you care about your professional image and that you are current in your approach. Your LinkedIn profile url can also be used in an email signature or on other online profiles as a way of extending the reach of your CV.
  •  Create a modern CV with targeted keyword usage. Their current versions are probably not getting past ATS ( Applicant Tracking Systems) or coming to the attention of recruitment sourcers. 97% of CVs, it is maintained, are not read by a human eye! Once again this could account for a failure to obtain an even a first interview.
  •  Most jobs (estimated at 85%) are not advertised. Creating a strong online presence and strengthening a personal brand will drive traffic to your professional profile. It’s no longer about looking for a job – it’s also about raising visibility to ensure you are found. Many jobs are also only advertised on LinkedIn.
  •  There is no substitute for strategic networking at any age and stage. No matter how young you are, or how long it’s been since you were in the workplace, we are all connected to someone! Have some simple, but good quality business cards printed – you never know when you need them! Connect and re-connect. Join networking groups and professional bodies especially if any membership has lapsed during a career break.
  •  Be active. Inactivity is not just a barrier to getting top jobs, it’s a barrier to getting any job! It’s also a great way to beat negative thinking, and maintaining your confidence, vital in job search. It also gives you data to monitor, from which you can make any changes to your job seeking strategy.
  •   Tweak those strategies . Don’t panic and especially don’t be afraid to change. Nothing is set in stone and what works in one set of circumstances may sink like a lead balloon in another! Be flexible

But most importantly never give up. The estimated time to get a job is reported to be on average a minimum of 7 months currently. If you carry on struggling – seek professional help. It will be worth it in the long-term!

Good luck!

Making the cut. How to ace a behavioural interview

Behavioural interviews have always been popular with major international organisations for carrying out in-depth selection processes. Recently however, interest in them seems to have peaked after being popularised by the TV show, The Apprentice just screened in the U.K. The reason I don’t write about this programme is because when I do watch it, for the most part I sit cringing, but also worrying that any potential candidates will take it seriously. Be under no illusion, this is a globally franchised game show where the real heroes are probably the film editors who reduce 100s of hours of material to a dozen hours of slick TV for our entertainment.

In it we have seen candidates lying or being facetious on their application forms, lacking basic knowledge of the company they are interviewing for, having very little idea what their transferable skills are and what they can indeed offer. It’s a miracle that anyone get’s hired at all, which is perhaps why there are rumours of 2 endings being filmed.

Behavioural-based interviewing is promoted as providing a more objective set of facts on which to base hiring decisions, rather than other interviewing methods. Underlying the philosophy is the idea that the most accurate predictor of future added value is either past performance in similar situations , or observable performance in something new. Competence in these circumstances is supposed to be 55 percent predictive of future on-the-job behavior, while traditional interviewing is said to be only 10 percent predictive. So whereas candidates are unlikely to be chasing around global capitals looking for random items to purchase, or running London visitor tours, organisations are becoming increasingly creative in introducing more challenging situations for potential candidates, than the standard interview process.

Assessment Battery
Behavioural interviews can be part of a battery of candidate assessment tools which will also include: personality and aptitude testing, individual assignment ( e.g. making a presentation, analysing a problem, formulating a solution) group assignments and/or group interviews.

One-on-one interview
Some career columnists maintain that behavioural interviews are difficult to prepare for. In part this can be true – especially in any group task where all candidates are being assessed and you won’t know the other team members. However, if you’ve done your discovery work thoroughly, you will know the challenges in your life/career, what you have done to achieve them, the results and the skills required to achieve those results. These will be articulated in your mission statement of your CV and in your elevator soundbites. So not a problem. You will have an arsenal of experiences you can call upon to illustrate as required.

What any organisation is looking for is how you deal with situations, even those with some sort of negative outcome can have value. If you have never dealt with the problem thrown at you, don’t be afraid to say so. Perhaps you have seen someone else in action in the same or similar position (a boss, colleague, family member). Describe what you observed or even describe an experience of your own which required parallel skills. Even take an educated guess.

The behavioral interviewer will delve into specific aspects of your response and probe for greater detail “What were you thinking at that point?” or ” Tell me more ..” or “Lead me through ..” Let’s go back to” if you haven’t done your CARS work properly, or you are a shadow of your own resumé, this is where you risk coming unstuck.

Aptitude/Personality testing.
Increasingly these are sent out by employers and taken on-line and there are always possibilities to have practise runs. There are any number of propriety brands on the market which are used by the major organisations. Many even have their own in-house assessment and testing facilities.

Individual Assignment
Sometimes candidates are asked to come to an interview prepared to deliver a presentation or a project. In other circumstances they will be handed one on arrival and given time to prepare. It could be a sales or marketing pitch, a negotiation or conflict situation, a managerial issue or a business strategy. This will also involve digging deep into your C.A.R.S work and previous experience.

Group Exercise
These are team based exercises and evaluation is made on the basis of the different input of individual team members in exactly the same way as employees collaborate in the workplace. They are constructed/designed to make individual assessment in areas such as decision-making, confidence, strategic analysis or time management . They also illustrate how all group members act within a team environment : who emerges as a leader, who is the strategic thinker, who is the compiler, communication styles and how is conflict handled. Organisations look for skill set and personality diversity, so there is no right or wrong way of doing this. This can be anything from an office based theoretical project ( ” your plane has crashed in the Amazon rain forest, what items would you look for in the wreckage and why?”, to something practical such as building a fence or constructing a Lego project.

Group Interview / Assessment
I am hearing more and more about this particularly at entry-level, where significant numbers of candidates are interviewed simultaneously, as many as 12 -15 at a time where they are asked to deliver their elevator pitch in front of the group , as well as company assessors. In one case it was to camera (it wasn’t a media opening) and in another there was also peer evaluation, almost in the Apprentice way. This was possibly to save organisational time and to test the candidates under pressure. The candidate feedback I received was that it was a challenging experience, with most feeling they didn’t acquit themselves well mainly because of nerves.The organisation which asked not to be named said ” It was a cost and time effective way of identifying the best candidates. We screened 80 candidates in 2 days resulting in a shortlist of 6, who went on to in-depth, one to one interviews. We are delighted with the process“.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the ultimate winner of the 2010 UK Apprentice Stella English at 31, had previous interview experience. Practise makes perfect.

So will you be hired or end up on the cutting room floor?

Ladies get your heads above the parapet!

What are you doing to become visible?
One of the strongest comments made about the average professional woman is their reluctance to step up, engage and make themselves visible. The creativity required to dream up the excuses I hear from these ladies alone, suggests their inner capabilities. They are first class.Women are long-term relationship builders so this is an area in which they should excel, but yet they still hold back. This of course means that there are a reduced number of visible female role models to emulate at all levels, not just at the top. According to a recent corporate study by Mercer, only 5% of respondents indicated that they provide a “robust programme” to develop female leaders. So although there is much talk about what governments and organisations can do for us women, there is so much more that we can do for ourselves. We cannot hang around waiting for other people to take care of us!

All women should create one or more on-line, comprehensive, professional profiles. And then engage. This sends out a message that you take your careers and professional activity seriously. They must include a professional biz photo. Many women are not keen on this for any number of reasons, but mainly I have found it is related to confidence issues and insecurities regarding their appearance as well as concerns about wide internet exposure. As a lady of a certain age I can empathise with both concerns. But women understand the power of appearance and should use that to their advantage, even if it means an extra trip to the hairdressers, perhaps more makeup than usual and a good photographer. This is head and shoulders only. If it was a bikini shot I’d be with you!

Professional platforms
OK, firstly professional platforms are not dating or “adult ” friendship sites, or super model contests and although I do know one woman who has received any number of marriage proposals, I think that is the exception rather than the rule. It also depends on the way women individually conduct themselves and of course, there are many filtering possibilities for any unwanted, inappropriate behaviour. Today, women have to network with people they may not know personally. This of course could expose them to that general vulnerability that the internet facilitates, in the way that walking down a street can expose any women, anywhere, to any number of weirdos. It is always possible to block or report the offending person. For those who are really concerned I would suggest starting in an environment in which you feel comfortable, perhaps a women’s group and build on from that. Create a separate email account specifically for networking if it’s a clogged inbox that is a concern. I drank two (large) glasses of wine before I pushed the publish button on my first blog post, so it’s something I can relate to.

Making time
Women often say they have no time to network or take on anything extra. Getting out there and participating whether on-line or IRL ( In Real Life) is vital. The reluctance of women to network strategically puts them at a significant disadvantage. Don’t forget there is no such thing as time management – it’s you management and about the allocation of priorities. Give yourself priority. Strategically select the networks which will be most useful to you and be active. Engaging online is also something that can be fitted in with other responsibilities, so is a perfect instrument for women and is entirely self scheduling.

Waiting for the perfect moment
There can be a tendency with women to get caught up in the “getting it right” rather than ” getting it done”, even in very low risk situations. This is a good moment to ask that time-honoured question ” What is the worst thing that could happen?” The realistic worst case scenario is usually far removed from the anticipated catastrophe.

Self advocate
Women very frequently wait for recognition. We wait to be invited, endorsed and promoted. This is the time to find your personal power and exercise it. Self promote and give yourself the award. Some inner work examining skills and challenges will help build up that much-needed confidence, so that elevator soundbites can be delivered with the words “I successfully + verb…”, ” My strengths are..” If you struggle with this, please find a mentor or a coach to support you. And yes, you have incredible skills and talents, but if you don’t know what they are how do you expect anyone else to?

Change your Christmas List
This brings me neatly to this point. Women seem reluctant to invest in personal professional development. This was eloquently developed by Anne Perschel of Germane Consulting in her post ” Ditch the Glass Slippers and Power up the Ruby Reds..” Women make up the world’s greatest emerging market and although we will spend money on any number of luxuries, we tend to invest less in our careers and professions which seems incredibly short-sighted. Who else is going to do that? Brian Tracey suggests that we spend 3% of our income on personal development. It was a gender neutral statement. So ask your friends/ family/Significant Other to dump Dior, or bin the Michael Boublé Compilation CD for Christmas, Valentine’s or your birthday, to give you a subscription to a professional journal, a business book, an appointment with a professional photographer or a workshop. Better still, treat yourself!

Become a mentor
Women of any age and position in their professional life, even entry-level can mentor other women. Be active in connecting and endorsing women who can support each other, or have some other mutually beneficial relationship. Until women step up in the way that men do, we will always be one step behind. We have to pay it forward.

So what are you doing to become visible, today?

For women who would like to get their heads above the parapet join the LinkedIn group
3Plus International. or follow @3PlusInt on Twitter! Check it out to see why! Then join and make a difference!

Dealing with a loaded question

“Tell me about yourself”
Job seeking advice is a bit like parenting or relationship advice. Most people have done it and everyone has an opinion. No, or even disastrous experience, in any of the above, still leaves some undeterred. Share they will. Of course, basic common sense and a certain objective distance can go a long way, but a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Old chestnut
In the job seeking process, an old chestnut which prompts massive debate and conflicting advice is the question “Tell me about yourself.” I probably screen, coach and interview in excess of 80 people a month, so do have some experience. Imagine my consternation when a coaching client working on her interview presentation to that very question came up with ” I’m a passionate, charismatic, happy person, enthusiastic, hardworking and witty. And I don’t like cheese.” An eyebrow was raised. Mine.

The source of this inspiration came from an internet blog post by an advertising exec, recently turned transition specialist. I dreaded that the prepared response to “Why should we offer you the job” would be ” Just do it!

Before my inbox fills up, I’m not writing off humorous introductions out of hand. I am the champion of flexibility as you know. There are indeed times when a witty one – liner or gimmicky presentation can be really effective, but you have to know when that might be. For most this is not easy if you have only clapped eyes on the interviewer for the first time, 2 minutes beforehand and might be nervous. It’s high risk and can backfire. Instead of piquing interest, it may just waste valuable time. For this particular client it was possibly career kamikaze.

Iron fist in velvet glove
To avoid misunderstanding, let’s get a major point nailed. “Tell me about yourselfis a loaded question. It is a hard-hitting opportunity to gain insight into a candidate, masquerading as a sweet, gentle icebreaker. It is an iron fist in a velvet glove, so preparation for any candidate for this is vital. Although this is not articulated ,what they want to know is what you have done in the past and whether you can do it in the job you’re interviewing for. To think otherwise will lull you into a false sense of security.

Language choice
So although it’s important not to give a career chronology and I’m not a fan of elevator speeches either (prefer elevator sound bites), providing a list of qualities only, can also take you into dangerous territory. They tend to be what I call “non words“. Enthusiastic, hardworking, happy and loyal should be a given and are wasting either space or time. Would any organisations look for candidates who weren’t any of the above? No they wouldn’t, so you have to ask yourself how do those qualities translate into added value. Actually, add cheese to that list too or any other dietary preferences. It is really necessary to dig deeper and ask more penetrating questions.

Does it mean they are positive thinkers which could make them problem solvers and solution finders? Does it make them calm under pressure and capable change managers? What further value do those qualities add? Does it mean the person can be relied on to produce results on time and possibly be a good team member and /or an effective leader?

Adapt to your situation
The qualities requirements of any job vary, so it’s important to tailor any response to the specific profile and also to the audience. You can’t use the same stock phrase in every situation. There might indeed eventually be some people who will share an antipathy for cheese, but for the most part I would doubt it. That requires a certain level of empathy, an understanding of the position and mental agility to alter your approach and vocabulary content as appropriate.

Double edged
Remember as well that the many qualities we all have, carry a downside. I very often see people describe themselves as “detail orientated or perfectionist.” But associated with those characteristics are some negatives. Perfectionists are sometimes slow implementors, risk averse and procrastinators, because they get too caught up in getting things right, rather than getting things done. Big picture thinkers are sometimes poor implementors. Passionate can suggest loose cannon or lack of focus. That’s another reason why it’s better to dig deeper and indicate the value of these traits, rather than just listing them. There are also many well established personality tests available that also give precise feedback if anyone struggles with self insight.

Beware of bragging
There is a fine line between selling yourself and appearing arrogant. Saying you are “charismatic” is like saying you’re good looking. Those characteristics are normally self-evident the minute a person walks into a room. There is no need to verbalise it! They are also subjective. One person’s charisma, is another person’s turn off. Wit is also very personal. Translate those into added value. Individuals with strong personal appeal tend to make excellent sales people, leaders and public speakers. Show how that quality has worked for you. If you are a “brilliant salesperson” then you will be able to provide metrics to back that up and can drop the superlative.

I know it’s really hard to know who to listen to and which bits of advice to filter out. But eventually there is no substitute for knowing yourself. Any candidate who has been through that process will be flexible and confident and know what to deliver, when and how.

The best person to trust is you.

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Visumés: The new way forward


Many people have talked about the concept of the visumé and their almost certain roles in our futures. Well, I was sent my first one yesterday and I have to tell you, that thought fills me with total horror.

As a coach, I can see they might have potential. The exercise would give individuals the motivation to focus on the content of their mission statement and USPs, as well as to the opportunity to perfect the delivery of their elevator sound bites to camera. It would certainly make any job seeker stand out if done professionally. As a recruiter, the thought of sifting through hundreds of 3 minute You Tube type presentations, delivered by what look like robotic newscasters of the lowest calibre, or possibly worse still the swaggering arrogance of Apprentice wannabes (see below), would frankly be intolerable.

So is this just my narrow-minded European view? Am I being a reticent Brit who sits there cringing through webinars and promotional clips from even quite highly regarded and rated amateurs? I decided to ask some contacts in the US, the home of “Show and Tell”, to let me know exactly what their thoughts are on the other side of the world.

Think hard
Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, Career Strategist at Career Trend suggests ” before stepping into the abyss of creative resume production, consider the goal of a resume: to hook the audience for further conversation (aka, the interview). As such, the buyer of your product initially is less interested in clicking on a 2-3 minute video and more interested in quickly absorbing your message through a glimpse of your written resume story.”

So to get past people like me  if you are going to do it – it has to be done well.  Creating a video resume  will mean more than sitting on a sofa, in front of a web cam in your living room and reading your CV.  But as interactive on-line video resumés become more commonplace,   I anticipate (dread?) a time when candidates will,  as part of their job seeking  and brand management strategies,  start crafting an on-line video presence to add to their search portfolios. 

There are also some basic operational issues as Jacqui mentions “ the viewer is required not only load up a video (and not all computer and smart phone systems will easily load up your video, causing frustration), but to listen and watch for 1-3+ minutes, versus an initial 15-30 second scan of a written resume. Most hiring and recruiting decision-makers I network with still prefer the written resume vs. a video for the initial touch point.

When you send or upload a CV or deliver your sales pitch,  the recipient reads your message before he or she hears it or sees it. With a visumé , you are essentially skipping the early parts of the process which are part of the job seeking building blocks and going straight for an audition. Julia Erickson, Career Expert at, suggests that this is “actually not a resume at all, it’s a performance where you are attempting to show your personality as one the employer would like. So even if you have the qualifications, if the person watching the visume doesn’t like you or how you look or what you’re wearing, you won’t get an interview. “.

There are advantages to both search strategies, if you are actually a skilled presenter. But as I know from my days of working in corporate HR for a major British TV company, working to camera goes one step beyond normal presentation skills and even the best presenters need on-camera training, with additional focus on image: clothes, hair, make up (even the men) and body language, more so than in an ordinary interview. Dan Harris’s sunglasses on his head are a definite NO!

Julia adds ” It’s been fascinating to watch some of the video resumes on-line and it confirms my opinion about them. It is even tougher to produce than a regular resume. If you are not using a professional videographer, you can make a mess. is promoting them to a certain extent; they have a YouTube “primer” on how to make one that contains very basic tips. If you spend some money, you probably could get a video resume that was OK – if you want one

Across the Atlantic divide we agreed wholeheartedly, that as video is not an interactive medium, any personal chemistry is removed and there is no opportunity to respond to any body language or obviously questions. The candidate’s performance is generic and static, but each viewer will have a different perception of the delivery and you will not be there to engage.

Visual Resumés
Visumés are not to be confused with visual resumés. LinkedIn is a visual resumé site and I also have many clients who have added visual resumés to their own web site with great success. Julie cautions ” The important thing is to make your paper resume consistent with your virtual/visual resumes. All the information needs to be the same“.

Both sides of the pond also agreed that a Visual CV would never be used to replace a paper one especially when organisations have their own software application methods. Anything that creates extra work for hard pressed hiring or recruiting managers puts the candidates at risk. If you do go that route Julie recommends 2 sites : “Slideshare allows you to create a visual CV, and VizualResume that put your basic information into a jazzed up format”.

Visumés and VisualCVs allows candidates to give employers a look at your work product or portfolio, so as part of a wider approach they can certainly add value. They can also be added to a LinkedIn profile or website to enhance any job search strategy.

The general intercontinental consensus is that to rely exclusively on a Visumé as the only tool in your job search box would be high risk – unless of course, you are looking for an opportunity on television.

Special thanks for great insights to :
Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, MRW, CPRW, CEIP, Chief Career Writer and Owner – CareerTrend
Julia Erickson: Career Expert at

Cave in… or leave the cave?

I’ve  had  lots of comments on my series of posts on women :  salary negotiation and the gender divide ( Let’s go girls… Negotiate!   and   Don’t be Afraid of “No” ). Thank you!   One topic still to be covered  is the issue of  us ladies stepping up to the negotiating table in our current organisations, as much as six times less than our male counterparts. This can mean a loss to net life income of up to half a million dollars.  So, let’s look at what can be done about that.  Just to be clear, this is only about women taking control of their own situations and dealing with passivity,  rather than covering flagrant cases of outright discrimination ( bullying?) where there are separate procedures both internal and legal to take care of those sort of issues.

Easier than you think!

It’s complex , but  not harder, or impossible, or any of   other those self sabotaging words  to initiate salary negotiate at this point.  The process just needs a minimally different type of preparation and understanding.  And can be learned which is very important.   So it’s all good. Women are long on empathy and process orientated.

So where to start?

You're going to hate this, but I'm afraid it's back to basics and preparation

This has been going  on for a while, right?  Feeling discontented and “put on” ,  so another few months won’t make any difference, seeing these guys making more money than you? But  you’re in a marathon,  not a sprint,  so  intensive training is required to undo lots of bad habits and perceptions  ( theirs and yours)  to position yourself for the finishing line.

Laying the foundations: Now is the time to be strategic, active  not re-active.

Reality check : The suggestions that I am going to make are based on the premise that you are at least a competent performer! If you have any chinks in your armour – absenteeism, missed deadlines, any performance warnings – deal with those first.

Also make sure that your understanding of your situation is based on fact. Perception can be  misleading.  You may have been in the job longer,  but if Joe and Pete in the next offices earn more than you,  if  they have an MBA and a PhD in Rocket Science, speak 3 languages  or are more measurably productive in some other way, then your  case isn’t necessarily clear-cut.  Sitting at your desk whingeing about your workload, miserable conditions and generally playing the victim will not help.  Squeaky wheels sometimes get changed instead of oiled.

So back to basics:

Positioning : try and volunteer for projects with strong visibility. Some shameless self promotion never goes amiss when preparing for salary negotiation.  What you are doing is paving the way to create opportunity. Start taking greater initiative, even if your efforts are turned down at least you  are practising  being assertive. If you keep getting negative responses,  establish  if there is a pattern. What can you change?

Ask for feedback:  get into the habit of  doing this and also asking if there’s anything you could be doing differently to meet expectations.  Do not use the word better.   Respond with an email of thanks to positive comments.  It’s good to have a  trail, even a soft one,  so that everyone starts believing your message about how good you are and the high standard of your work.   Including you!

Personal Development : if there is an area of personal development you can undertake which will increase your added value – do it,  even if currently it might be at your own expense.  Discuss this with your boss – and make sure that he/she is aware of what you are doing and connect this effort  to future added value for the company.

Know yourself.  Decide on your life and professional goals.  Where are your strengths and skills and where do you ultimately want to go with them?

Know your metrics ( e.g  turnover, transactions per day, customer satisfaction ratings.. etc) You are the product  – so manage your business.!  What have you achieved and contributed or could possibly contribute further in the future?

Know your market. Where do you sit on the salary spectrum both within the organisation and outside it? Facts.

Craft your elevator sound bites: your USPs  and success stories.

Anticipate objections :  “no budget, it’s a recession, you’re a poor performer ( yes, they might play dirty) ,we’re going bankrupt, boss is busy etc”.  If there is any implied criticism you should have your feedback email trail to back you up. In any situation that is potentially intimidating,  ask for precise examples and dates of the issues.  That normally  de-fuses situations.

Rehearse your  constructive communication strategy:   Socratic questions ( What makes you say/think that? How do you reach that decision?  etc)  and Attentive Listening  (” Help me understand”,  I feel that…”)

Set your ideal outcome and the fallback position you can live with ( benefits in kind, shorter hours, review in 6 months, childcare , working from home, flexi-time etc) benefits in kind have a high monetised value when grossed up.

Prepare for “No:”  Remember you love “no.. , ” make it work and use all the strategies you’ve prepared. But have a clear plan if the  answer is final.

Know your audience :   You  have  worked in this organisation for some time and have a relationship with the players. You know the corporate culture and  have observed him/her in other or similar situations.  What are their own goals and aspirations  and what is the business plan for the department?  You are prepared,  but be cautious. You might have coached yourself into neutral mode  for this  transaction, but there is no guarantee that the person sitting across the table from you will be in biz mode too. They might see this request as some sort of personal slight on their managerial skills and become ego defensive. That is not your problem.  Maintain  your cool no matter what,  but  be aware that this is the point when  any negotiation could become adversarial.  They  may not even have realised that there is a new, evolved, assertive you in front of them.

Living in the village

Now it is important to be clear in your own mind what you are prepared to settle for and what happens if your request is firmly rejected in any form. You still have to  “live in the village  ” to quote my friend Wally Bock .  So if you decide to let it go,  it’s important not to close doors and to remain measured and business like. The alternative is  of course outside the cave.

One size fits all

A number of you emailed or messaged me ,  truthfully a little angrily and frustrated. Your stories were of being single parents , living in areas of  high unemployment ,  with domestic circumstances that limited your flexibility and mobility.Plus your company is the main employer  in the region and could call the salary shots, so voting with your feet was not an option.   “What  have you got to say about that? You’re targeting high fliers! ” you  commented  somewhat belligerently!   But coaching is not elitist.

Without knowing all the individual circumstances and if these concerns are real,  or FEARs  ( false expectations appearing real)  the answer is that there is no one answer.  But no I’m not – these strategies are a one size fits all. They can be tweaked and adapted to fit most situations.    My suggestion is that you focus on you. Add to your skill set and if this can’t be done in a professional context in your existing company,  set yourself some goals for personal development.  Think long-term. No situation is ever static, so at least you will be prepared for any changes that may arise. Kids graduate, companies get taken over, recessions end and opportunities come around when you least expect them.  Can you work from home or take on-line classes for example?

There are always a multitude of possibilities. You just have to be open to seeing them.  In the words of someone even  older and definitely wiser than myself  ( Seneca)  ” Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”

Don’t be afraid of “NO”

" No" is your friend. It creates an opportunity to counter.

There was an amazing, interesting  and almost global response to my last post “Let’s go girls…. negotiate”. All sorts of questions and issues were raised around gender differences  related to salary negotiation. Many complex topics were covered  connecting  cultural and historical barriers that prevent women stepping up to self advocate. But I’m not even going to attempt to address those wider topics here and just want to concentrate on the immediate and practical. I’m  also just going to focus on negotiating for a new job  and will  deal with existing situations  later,  although the principles are  still broadly the same .

So let’s deal with what can anyone  of us do.. NOW.

Women are relationship builders
One  of the first  points  raised was that women are  relationships builders and as a consequence we are not good at “winning ” individual encounters and are therefore disadvantaged from the get go.  So OK… let’s look at this in real terms.

Yes,  we are excellent relationship builders – but  all good  functional relationships I believe  are not about winning. In fact if anyone feels like a “loser”   in a deal  ( male or female) , my feeling is that  connection is predicated to be dysfunctional long-term.  Negotiation  is  ultimately about building a relationship. It is constructive communication between two parties to find a mutually satisfactory outcome. Women excel at win/win solutions. Do male managers really see all negotiations as adversarial? Wise and effective ones surely don’t. I have actually tried to find some management theorists who might support this line of thinking- but couldn’t locate any, except perhaps when discussing situations impacting international security- which we’re clearly not. And even in those cases, as we have historically seen, punitive negotiations don’t always work then either.

Many women  also wrote to me and to paraphrase said   ” … You don’t understand ….negotiating a salary is different to other  types of negotiations.”

NO it isn’t.

Be confident

This is about confidence.  Without confidence we will always find a way to lose, so it is important is to normalise and neutralise  the negotiation process in our own minds and to understand that  as women, we all do it, all the time without a second thought.  We just don’t even notice. Once we realise what an integral part negotiation actually plays in our daily lives, half the problem has been overcome.

 Test yourself:

1. The TV repairman says “ Can’t come for 3 weeks”

2. You have a 4 figure quote from a supplier for a job you feel pretty sure should cost 3 figures

3.  Your 15-year-old wants a party

So what do you do? Do you roll over and  wait for 3 weeks to get your TV fixed  and say to your contractor  “ sure  no problem I’ll pay over the odds for that job?” or leave town and  turn your house over  to your teen for an all night rave?  No. Of course not.

You negotiate.

You research the market, evaluate what you need doing, decide what you can comfortably afford to accept. If it doesn’t work you let it go or change.

So salary negotiation isn’t different.

By becoming a candidate you have already made that  psychological  commitment  to change and have taken that leap into the unknown. You have imperceptibly started the negotiation process.   You have researched the company,  identified your skills, know your value in the sector and must have marketed them well , because  here they are now wanting to make you an offer. You are in a good place! If the hiring company lose you,  they may have to start the process from scratch or fall back on candidate number two. That is an additional cost,  not just in terms of  search fees,  but also in terms of elapsed time before a new hire is effective , which equals lost revenue. They will have done their homework and will know what the salary range for your skill set is on the market.  Generally everyone  should  be looking for successful outcome. Most companies settle at least 10-15%  above the initial offer.

The pre-question

When I started selling,  my boss at the time, a guy called Mike Lowe, the best sales person I have ever met and a formative personality in my career and personal development, gave me a  simple  nerve conquering mantra before I embarked on any project. The pre-question.”What is the worst thing that can happen?”

Mike  also tried desperately hard  to teach me to ski where injury, pain and  death  featured in my option choices ( not necessarily in that order.)  But these  downsides, generally speaking, don’t tend to happen around a negotiating table discussing anything legal.

In any ordinary negotiation process, the worst  case scenario is  usually and I always  unhapppily thought,  pre “Mike” , was a firm ” no” .  But Mike also taught me that “no” is my friend and how to use it .

Make “no” your friend

So even within this negative messagethere is a  hidden bonus which can open up a dialogue and lead you to make informed decisions. So instead of fearing “no” – it’s now a word you feel extremely comfortable with. Take a lesson from your own kids. If you say no to a pre-schooler – what do they say ? Exactly.  ” Why? ”

Why” is now your other new door-opening  buddy.

It hangs around with “no”. It allows you to take each objection and calmly overcome them with your elevator sound bites, which incorporate all your CARS,  USPs and overall added value. So you love “NO.” It can work for you! The evolved adult  you  have become,  may not stamp her foot  like a five-year old  and petulantly pout “why”, but you will counter with something  more grown-up, neutral and reasonable like “What makes you say that?”

Mike  taught me to de-emotionalise  “no” and view it as a vital part of the process. It’s wasn’t about me. “No” doesn’t mean that my value or self-worth are  on the line and reduced in any way, or I’m some sort of mini failure.  It’s only about the transaction.

Research & preparation

But first you have to deal with  negative thinking   and examine the facts and take steps to avoid  being over come by fear ( False Expectations Appearing Real.) So research and preparation are key. Understand the economic viability of the company and know your own market value.


Mike also taught me about the use of silence. It’s the last member of the  “no / why” trinity. We women are not great at silence. But there are times when the prudent use of silence can be as effective as delivering a great elevator speech. Used wisely it is a great negotiating technique. Deliver your pitch …. and wait….and wait…. and wait….

 Fall back position

It maybe that you will not reach your  first goal  – but  you should always have a secondary goal  in mind  before entering any negotiation.  In the words of Karl Albecht  “Start out with an ideal and end up with a deal.”   If anyone in a negotiation situation that feels  their back is against a wall, trouble and resentment  are going to figure largely in their futures.

But if a compromise still  isn’t possible then  that leaves one  option – seriously consider voting with your feet.

Is it this  final step, which we as women fear most? That primal,  risk taking side to our personalities that keeps us in the metaphoric  “cave”  and prevents us taking that leap into the unknown which separates us from the guys?

The irony  is  of course ,  that  it is the ability and willingness to walk away which can be the single most powerful negotiating tool in any deal.

What do you think?

Special thanks to Wally Bock,    Ava Diamond, Colin Lewis, Rebel Brown , Susan Mazza,  Tim Douglas , Ellen Brown  Anne Perschel    Susan Joyce , Sharon Eden for stimulating contributions!

Job seekers: the new breed of entrepreneur?

I was chatting to a girlfriend  recently who wanted to talk about her career options. She didn’t know really what she wanted to do – but she did have strong ideas about what she didn’t want to do – “nothing entrepreneurial   ” she  told me emphatically.     The sub text was that  this was a bit risky, possibly   slightly pushy  ( all that  ghastly selling  ) and maybe even  vaguely tacky,  just  too reminiscent of Alan Sugar and the Apprentice for comfort.  She just wanted to find a normal job.

But what is a normal job and can it be found normally?

I think she’s due for a wake up call.

The internet has revolutionised our lives in so many ways especially the way and speed in which we do things and exchange information. The recruitment process, as with many other sectors has been dramatically impacted and is constantly evolving in response to technological advancement.  These developments have coincided with a  dramatic worldwide recession and a huge decrease in the number of jobs available. Job loss outstripped job creation 3:1 in the first quarter of 2009 in Europe.  Globally unemployment figures are now tipping over the 9% mark, so that  in some countries and sectors almost 1 in 10 people are now unemployed. The number of jobs posted on line in the US dropped by 13%, 2008 on 2009, where there are now 3.3 candidates for every position.

The goal posts are moving
HR Managers claim that thousands of applicants per vacancy is commonplace. 80% of recruiters use on-line media and search engines to identify and source candidates for the hidden job market and only 20% of jobs are advertised in a traditional way.   Entry level candidates compete even for unpaidemployment .   

“For every 1,470 resumes, there ’s 1 job offer made and accepted” – Richard Bolles, bestselling author, What Color is Your Parachute?

Phrases such as  personal branding,  career management,   raised visibility and google ranking  have slipped imperceptibly into the career coaching lexicon.  The goal posts are moving faster than you can say Beckham or Ronaldo. Today’s “normal ” may have reached its  shelf life before the Q4 results are released.

The days when we could join a company and stay with it ” man and boy”   ( or to be politically inclusive “woman and girl”)  as the saying goes,  are  long gone.  As are the days of guaranteed employment until retirement in any job. Will retirement  even exist as a concept  for future generations? The truth is we don’t  know.  What we do know is that there are no guarantees. 

We are also learning that we have to do things differently and if we don’t we’ll get left behind.

Doing things differently
So as I coach people in  enhancing their competitive edge by recognising their added value and looking for metrics to demonstrate that, identifying their USPs,  creating a personal brand, increasing their visibility via different media to just the optimum level   (not over doing it to become a nuisance factor), protecting their on-line image , topped off by the perfectly pitched elevator sound bite,  for casual  and appropriate introduction  on all occasions and functions,  it strikes me that this is actually probably no different to a company running its operations and  launching a product on the market.   

Does this mean that we all now have to become mini entrepreneurs in our job ( opportunity)  seeking efforts and that managing a career is now like managing a business ? 

Both require  creative thinking,  identifying  target markets,  an effective product launch, closing the deal , client relationship management,  long term planning and maintenance, underpinned by sound  on – going investment. 

So yes …I guess it does.

When should elevator speeches be grounded?

Create soundbites
Quite often I am asked to coach people through their elevator pitches and  actually even have a section in my own coaching programme entitled just that. But I’ve decided only  today to change it all. I’m not sure if I think it’s an outdated concept and perhaps in today’s climate calling it  “elevator phrases” might be better.

Crass is out
Elevator speeches are supposed to be the pitch you make  in a 60 second ride in an elevator. It’s all your USPs, CARS and all sorts of other acronyms rolled into a zingy speed presentation that is supposed to  nail that opportunity for  a further meeting, leading to a golden future.   But realistically how many opportunities do we get in every day life to have our 60 second moment of glory other than at a formal job interview,  a business presentation or convincing someone to lend us money? Today especially, there is less tolerance in these tougher times of a hard, crass sell.

In recent more egocentric times  it was OK to talk about yourself for a whole minute, whether in an elevator or anywhere else for that matter, so that sort of routine could  have worked.  I’m not sure how  well it would go down in the current economic climate.    I suspect that if someone started now  to spout about themselves in a crowded lift for 60 seconds straight,  they’re likely  to find  themselves wearing their pod-mate’s latte by the time they reach their floor.

I have a very good friend, a successful business man who always, no matter where he was, would introduce himself with a warm friendly smile, a firm handshake and his senior level job title and what he was currently working on. In business situations that was fine,  lines are drawn in the sand and everyone knows where everyone stands. But it did tend to bemuse French waiters, his wife’s book club and his kids’ friends. That only took 15 seconds – can you imagine what would have happened if he’d gone on for a whole minute?

Value is in
So what might work today when the mood favours subtlety and where we are now expected to give before  we sell? Yet the hurdle still remains that we still  only have one main chance to make a great first impression. So what we need now is a more flexible approach, something that conveys the key points without sounding like a self -absorbed, narcissistic bore: who you are, what have you done and can you do it for whoever you’re talking to and why should they give you their time  

What is the aim?
The aim of  any “elevator speech” is to get the person to engage with you. So think  long term. At some point you have to establish what your primary objective is from the conversation, but also to have in mind a secondary goal, (fallback position) if the first option doesn’t work out.   Sometimes you might only have a few seconds to figure that out at a chance encounter. What do you do when the person  you really want to connect with professionally,  is having her highlights done in the next hairdresser’s chair. True story!  As her head is pasted with chemicals does she care that I’m an international executive search specialist with 20 years experience –  well frankly no, she doesn’t.  Is she totally interested in my thoughts on soft beige or dark blonde and Kim Clijsters winning the US Open. Absolutely.

So the key ingredients are empathy and flexibility.

So you  clearly will not say the same things to the CEO of a company standing next to you at your daughter’s soccer game as you would if he was at a networking event. Your USPs and CARS therefore need to be organic and in your DNA and to come out in different formats. I think they are actually best in dialogue form – and can be initiated by you asking questions – not delivering a pitch. It is always good to find out about the person you’re talking to by asking questions. People generally like to be asked about themselves and they like you more for being the one to ask .

Be strategic
You have to accept the fact that  rarely is anyone offered  a job or opportunity on the spot, so make your  primary goal, realistic and achievable. It might be to arrange a meeting, an interview,  another opportunity to develop some points or simply a networking contact. Sometimes you have to be strategic.

Set in place your  mental secondary goal, a  contingency plan if your primary goal is not successful. It might be to exchange business cards  with a suggestion for contact at some future date ( the hairdresser situation)  or to ask for a referral. It’s always good to come away with something from a networking situation – however small. Most importantly it should sound effortless, conversational and natural.

Be flexible
There are also times when it is important not to make your pitch – that sounds like pretty poor coaching but you have to weigh up  if making a pitch at the wrong time will have greater collateral damage than not making it all.  This is not to be confused with chickening out through nerves!   Recently I  ran into my local deli  on the way back from  a gym session. No details required. You can imagine  how I looked.    Covert ops like this   are always a high risk activity, but a vital ingredient was needed for dinner. Who did I see perusing the gourmet gateaux , but someone I had wanted to set up a meeting with for a long time visiting his sister, my neighbour.  I promptly ducked behind the asparagus tips and fresh red berries. That was  strictly strategic, not chicken. I did refer to it in a later email and got my meeting.

So how  do you know what to do?

  •  Understand well your own success stories and  learn how to articulate them succinctly.
  • Choose your vocabulary wisely, using every day language. Saying you are a ” seasoned executive” is fine on a CV, in person people will think BBQ not Boardroom
  • Break it down into short stand alone concepts that can be introduced freely and casually
  • Make your pitch memorable  positive and sincere. It should reflect you.
  • Practise  – mirror, pets, partners, kids – doesn’t matter. Anything that won’t  laugh.
  • Think of it as part of a dialogue, so create a list of  Socratic questions that will  prompt your listener to ask you questions in return to keep the conversation going. This is not just about you!
  • Listen attentively ( para-phrasing) . You can drip feed your USPs drop by drop!
  • Elevator speeches must be flexible.  Don’t get into auto-pilot mode regardless of the circumstances.
  • Don’t let your speech sound robotically rehearsed.
  • Maintain eye contact with your listener. If their eyes glaze over you’re doing a bad job.
  • Smile.  Try to be warm, friendly, confident, and enthusiastic.Take it slowly.
  • Don’t ramble. Rambling is boring!
  • Avoid industry jargon, or acronyms that your listener may not understand unless you are in a professional setting.
  • End with an action request, such as asking for a business card,  interview appointment or possibility to call.
  • Update your speech ideas as your situation changes.
  • Practise your telephone technique by leaving a message on your own answer machine. How do you sound?  Awful?  Then you probably  are!  Try again!

I am not saying bin your power elevator speech all together, what I am suggesting is break it down into component parts that can be interchangeable  and learn to use each of them flexibly,  with discretion.

Sometimes  six, ten second comments will get it done too. Short can definitely be sweet!

Choose your words wisely!

Inspired by Wally Bock

Divided by a common language  

Chatting on Twitter the other night, Wally mentioned in passing that he was a vet. Wow I thought. He’s an international leadership guru , writer, poet AND a vet. That’s pretty amazing. I went into recruiter mode. Thoughts about wide ranging skill sets , the long years he must have spent in college and training, plus potential career paths all raced through my mind. Then I realised (just as quickly) that we were probably having a cultural mis-communication moment. In UK English “vet” is a commonly used abbreviation for veterinary surgeon, but in the US it tends to replace the phrase “war veteran”.

Word choice

It then occurred to me if two Anglophones can mis-communicate so successfully and we use vocabulary and word choice as a professional tool all the time, what are the implications for those that don’t? I’m not talking about advertising spin either, but just presenting our message in a succinct and positive fashion, that everyone can understand and easily digest.

The importance of word choice in communicating a message in job search strategies is a vital part of my coaching programme. It’s key in CV writing and drafting internet profiles not only to be identified by Applicant Tracking Systems, but to identify your personal brand, which is the essence of your message. Strong language is absolutely essential in developing a correctly pitched elevator speech used in direct networking and interviews. They all require precise vocabulary, but presented in different styles and formats. Living in an international environment where English is the global business lingua franca, I also see people both communicating and confusing in their second, third or even fourth languages every day.


I coached someone recently who used this phrase “Used to work in a multicultural environment : continuous contacts internally with US and European colleagues. Daily contacts with customers in Europe, Middle East and Africa mainly”

What he had actually done was this: successfully identified market development opportunities in key emerging markets,( some very challenging countries which I can’t specify for confidentiality reasons) created multi- cultural and cross discipline teams (requiring the management of significant cultural differences and business practises) to spearhead the launch of the product portfolio. The result was x increase( large number) to his company’s bottom line. Was that obvious? Not at all. Same role, but which one is going to attract attention?
I have observed over time that there are generally two parts to this communication process: communication with yourself (internal message) and then communication with others (external message). Sometimes it is only about the use of effective “brand” language ( vocabulary), but quite often it’s more than that.
So what needs to be done?
 Internal communication: this is about self awareness and self insight. You need to identify and understand your own challenges and achievements – I know I keep bashing on about this – but it is key. If you don’t know what you’re good at – how can you expect anyone else to know? You are your own best asset. Recruiters don’t have time to look for sub – text and to analyse the possible implications of what you’ve been doing in your career. We need to be told in very precise terms. Self insight also facilitates the interview process so you present yourself strongly verbally as well – this is your own brand development . It avoids the awkward pauses, repetition and embarrassing moments in interviews. But it is equally vital that you own your personal message. How do you define yourself? As the person in “daily contact” or the person who ” spearheads”?
External communication: Choosing powerful vocabulary and phrases to get your message across in the best possible way in all media is really important. This is not boasting (that’s about personality and delivery) or falsifying( that’s about lying). It’s your brand marketing. Would we buy Coke if it was advertised as a “brown fizzy drink” Probably not. Suggesting “refreshing” and “thirst quenching” or whatever else they say, produces a different and successful picture. Same about you! Use words such as: identifed, created, instigated, enhanced, extended, exceeded, generated, conceived, won, strengthened, secured, restructured, transformed to list just a few. Lose weaker words such as: facilitates, co-ordinated, set up, played a key role, contact etc. Let the facts speak for themselves and back up your achievements with incontestable examples or numbers.
If you are not a wordsmith, or English isn’t your first language, enlist support to help craft the most convincing CV possible to send a message you believe in. Why run the risk of being rejected because of some weak words?
You don’t want to be a “brown fizzy drink”!