Getting a job you love isn’t all about your skills.
It’s been a long, long time since I had a job. Or an employer. (Other than myself, of course, and I can be a pretty tough boss.)
But in my 20 years of consulting and coaching I’ve worked with a lot of employers, and I’ve coached a lot of employees. And I can’t begin to tell you the number of interviews, coaching sessions, disciplinary reviews, and exit interviews I’ve witnessed where it was clear the employee didn’t understand that the “better job” they wanted to get was dependent on the “better job” they needed to do. Nor did they understand that the better job they were looking for wasn’t all about their skills.
Not to say that skills aren’t important, if you can’t do the job you shouldn’t get the job. But my role in interviews or coaching sessions was almost never about competency, my job was usually to assess and improve what we call the “soft skills.” I covered a couple of keys about soft skills in this Entrepreneur article. But what I didn’t cover there is what you, as an employee or contractor, can do to improve your shot at the next bigger and better opportunity.
Soft skills are underrated. Sometimes they aren’t even talked about. But they are always felt, and consciously or not, they can make or break your chances at a new client, a new job, or an advancement.
Before you go after that next opportunity, give yourself a little check up.
#1 Check Your Attitude
Begin with gratitude for the job you have. Or for the education you have. Or for the skills and talents you have. You’d be surprised how much we can tell about your attitude by how you talk about where you are right now. You might also be surprised at how much we value those people who talk about the people who have helped them, or given them a chance, or even corrected them when they needed it. It’s tempting, when you’re angling for a position, to try to take credit for your achievements, but we all know that no one got where they are on their own.
Don’t let your regrets and resentments color the conversation. If you’re bitter about something from a previous experience, let it go before you sit down with us.
Because we might not be able to identify what was just “off,” but that baggage you’re toting around sets off our radars.
Watch your biases. Even if you are going for a position where gender, race, religion, orientation, or age biases are accepted, if you show up as a sexist, racist, homophobic, religious zealot, we’re going to be put off by your arrogance if not outraged by your prejudices.
#2 Check Your Focus
When all your focus is on yourself, or all your focus is on your skills and talents, or all your focus is on what you want out of the job, the interview starts to feel a little unbalanced.
In interviews I frequently tell personal stories, or go off on tangents. Not because I’m scatter-brained, and not because I want a chance to talk about myself, but because I want to see how you handle yourself in a conversation that is not focused on you. I’m watching to see if you’re interested, not if you can fake an interest, but if you’ll engage with me, nod, ask questions, smile — with your eyes AND your lips — I want to know if you give a hoot about anyone except yourself.
Focus is even more important when it’s your turn to ask questions. If your only questions are about what the position means for you — in terms of opportunities, projects, compensation packages, and perks — we’re going to form a pretty strong impression that you’re only in it for what you can get out of it. Even the most generous client or employer isn’t interested in hiring someone who sees the world as a one-way street.
Shift your focus to the person who is interviewing you, shift your focus to the organization you’re interviewing with, shift your focus to the team you’re interviewing to join. And mean it. (Some required reading here would be The Go-Giver and It’s Not About You, by Bob Burg and John David Mann.)
#3 Check Your Contact List
I’m not talking about name dropping, or getting references from someone on the inside track. Although we do pay attention to who you know, and who vouches for you, what we’re really looking at is who you value, who you hang with, who you allow to influence you. We’re well aware of the truth behind “birds of a feather” and we’re looking for birds that hang out with birds we already know, like, and trust.
Of course, your contact list is also a great place to get the scoop before you sit down with an interviewer or manager. The more you know about the project, department, team, or leadership style where you want to be working the better prepared you are to rate well on #2.
#4 Check Your Self Talk
I’m always amazed at how many people I sit down with who clearly mistake self-deprecating talk for humility. But even more frequently, I notice how the effects of negative self-talk, insecurity, and defensive posturing show up even when the language used is positive.
I always say that the conversations you have with yourself are the most important you’ll ever have because no one can trump your own beliefs. And nowhere is that more true than when you’re campaigning for an opportunity you really want. You might feel foolish using a mantra, or giving yourself a daily pep talk, but you won’t look foolish when you sit down with us to talk about why you are the person we need for the job.
#5 Check Your Assumptions
It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming you know what we’re looking for, or assuming you know what the job entails on a daily basis. But no matter how much research you’ve done, you know less than we do, so ask and listen. You might find you’re more qualified than you expected. You might find that the job isn’t even something that you’d want. But if nothing else, you will give better responses if you have a more accurate view of what is at stake.
Check your assumptions about yourself too. Are you assuming you won’t relocate, won’t go back to school, won’t make a lateral move if it lets you do more of what you love? Try asking yourself what the opportunity would have to offer for you to consider doing something unexpected. The answers might surprise you!
Of course you shouldn’t neglect your skills, and you should develop your talents. But don’t forget that we aren’t hiring or promoting a job description, we’re looking for a person. And maybe, that person is you!
Photo: Flickr/Kelly B