The Key to Surviving Networking? Curiosity

I've always been curious. Probably annoyingly so at some points in my life.

Curiosity_Jessie Essex.jpg

Me, age 6: "But, how does Santa carry so many toys in one sleigh? Or, does he go back and forth to the North Pole all night long and reload?"

Me, age 13: "Why is the periodic table laid out that way? Why not in alphabetical order?"

Me, age 21: "Why does the sorority call this mandatory meeting an 'enrichment session,' if we're just sitting around learning how to paint our nails the right way?"

But, even through those periods during which my friends, teachers and family members were probably hoping to God I'd just stop with all the inquiring, I will tell you this straight up: 

My curiosity has been well worth it.

And (fortunately for all involved), through the years, I've cultivated a style and a purpose with my curiosity that, today, doesn't create eye roll or irritation among others (at least I don't think so). Instead, it often sparks engaging discussions, enables me to learn new things, and -- importantly -- leads to incredible opportunities.

Curiosity led me into recruiting, which led me to launch JobJenny.com, which led me to build a thriving consultancy, with clients all over the globe. Curiosity helped me meet my husband (unexpectedly, online) -- who, at the time, lived 3,000 miles away.

Curiosity has also made my professional networking a whole lot easier, and it can make yours easier, too.

Think about this: People love being acknowledged positively. They love when they're noticed for their work, their style, their successes, you name it. 

We all live for validation.

By asking people about themselves and their work, you're validating them. By being genuinely curious about someone (and listening intently to their stories and input), you can accomplish much:

  • You can build a relationship that may be long-lasting and beneficial.
  • If you're a job seeker and speaking with employees of a company of interest or thought leaders in your field, you may gather information that helps you refine your approach or strategy.
  • You may even unearth an opportunity that you'd not have even known about had it not been for this conversation (Just remember: Curiosity does not equal "foisting my resume into someone's hands when they've not asked for it.")

Curiosity also offers a secondary (yet important) benefit that the more introverted or shy job seekers tend to really appreciate:

It makes networking so much easier, and less anxiety provoking.

How much calmer are you going to feel the next time you're walking into a networking event, informational interview, or picking up the phone to call a friend-of-a-friend who works at a company of interest if you can frame the conversation as a casual chat aimed at learning more about someone (and the cool things they're doing at work)?

In other words, how much pressure will it take off of you if you can enter the conversation with the goal of learning more about another person, and listening intently as she shares her stories (rather than being all about your agenda)?

Answer: A lot easier, and likely more beneficial.

This isn't to say you shouldn't capitalize on an opportunity, or make an appropriate ask if the conversation leads to this. And it certainly doesn't mean that the chat won't shift to "all things you" at some point. But it's easier to stick a toe in with curiosity than cannonball your way in by asking for a big favor (that may be "too much" at the earliest stages of getting to know someone).

Now, you may be sitting there thinking, "Slow your roll, Jenny Foss. What if I'm not naturally curious like you?" 

Good question. Here's the good news:

Curiosity can be cultivated. 

That's right, you can grow your curiosity. Or, like I did after years of being that pesky kid who asks too many questions: you can refine it.

While there are books and articles as far as the cows come home about how to do just this, here are three very simple things to try as you get started:

1. Don't just sit on the surface with people

How many times have you been in a networking conversation that feels just, well, plastic-y? Like, it's the smallest small talk known to the world of small talk and no one's taking the conversation anywhere other than right on the surface? Bluch. Now, I'm not suggesting that you pry right into personal details with strangers (don't), but try asking follow up questions as the person across from you shares his stories and experiences.

2. Listen intently

Being curious doesn't mean just coming up with good questions. Your great inquiries will mean little if you blip out just as the other person starts to answer you. Don't spend so much time thinking about what you're going to say next that you miss the opportunity to listen intently.

3. Think creatively of ways to use the learnings

Learning stuff is great. Putting the stuff you learn to use is even better. Once you've exited a networking conversation, spend some time thinking about that discussion, and how you might be able to use the information you took out of the meeting.

For instance, maybe you learned something about a job opportunity or hiring manager that calls for a shift in your approach or strategy. Or, maybe something that was said sparks an idea that you didn't have prior to the session. Or, perhaps you think of a way that you might help the other person out. Whatever it may be, find ways to use the learnings.

Networking can feel so scary and disingenuous when you're looking for a new job. By infusing curiosity into your repertoire, you'll reduce the terror factor, your conversations will feel more genuine, and you may just walk away with something incredibly useful.

(Or, hell, even a new friend.)

 

Thinking about using networking as part of a career pivot strategy? Be sure and check out our Ridiculously Awesome Career Pivot Kit.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons License (Jessie Essex)

5 Incredibly Common Job Interview Questions (& How to Nail 'em All)

Blog post contributed by Darby Hennessey, our long-time intern and a soon-to-graduate journalism student at The University of Mississippi.

The interview process of a job application can either make you or break you. But nailing the interview is such a satisfying feeling, and can sometimes lead straight to an offer. Employers are finally able to see you in the flesh, and see how you would fit into the office dynamic. 

It’s like going out on a first date, minus the questions about favorite movies, past relationships or your nutty Uncle Fred -- and plus the questions about your teamwork capabilities, knowledge of Google Analytics, or ability to play nice in cross-functional team environments.

Also unlike a date, the questions you're going to field in a job interview are most often quite deliberate, quite calculated and quite designed to uncover specific things about your abilities, personality and potential culture fit.

Totally no pressure, right?

This doesn’t mean you should fret to the point that you end up sounding scripted or robotic throughout your interview, nor should you plan to just recite information from your resume. Interviewers are looking for more personality and an awareness of how to be professional, yet friendly, especially if you’re going into a job that involves direct client interaction.  But with a simple understanding of the most common interview questions, you can practice before the big day, and go in ready to really nail your interview. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of 5 super common interview questions:

1.    So, tell me about yourself. 

This one is strange, because it’s not really a question. Yet every interviewer loves to use it, especially at the very beginning of the interview. The key to nailing this opener is a quick, succinct, honest and engaging response. You'll also want to keep in mind that the reviewer isn't looking for a narrative of how your life has unfolded for the past 15 years; she's looking for you to answer in a way that provides direct evidence of your qualifications for that role.

It’s simpler than it sounds, we promise.

The best way to go about preparing for this question is brainstorming a little “elevator pitch” summary of yourself, your strengths, and your most valuable experience, with your target role in mind. If the job calls for strong problem solving skills and an ability to interact with others, now is not the time to ramble about your childhood hometown or your weekend kite surfing hobby. Instead, consider framing your answer in a way that positions you as a strong problem solver and / or articulate communicator.

And so forth.

2. What's your biggest weakness?

So like it or not (usually not), interviewers love to bust out this question at some point in the interview. You know it’s coming, and you know it’s a doozy. But nailing this one is completely survivable if you apply some strategy: be honest, be brief and never announce a weakness that would immediately disqualify you as a candidate (e.g. "I sometimes get overwhelmed by technology" would be a very bad choice if you're applying for a job as a IT help desk associate.)

Acknowledging your weaknesses openly shows integrity and self-reflection, a far more valuable trait to employers than a minor weakness. But don’t ramble about your weakness, just give a thoughtful answer and move on.  Even better, if you can frame how, by understanding your weakness, you've been able to find workarounds or solutions, you'll show an even greater level of self-awareness.

So what exactly can you say? For starters, think of a skill you struggle with. Is public speaking not your strong suit? Do you struggle with confrontation in the work place? Is collaborating on an important project been a challenge in the past? Whatever it is, consider choosing a weakness that you have actively and consciously worked on bettering, and are acutely aware of. After all, this question is not so much an interrogation, but a way for the interviewer to see if you are an honest, thoughtful, and self aware. 

And, for goodness sake, don’t say you have no weaknesses, that your weakness is perfectionism, or get too deep or personal. Rookie moves. Stick with professional, thoughtful answers.

3.    Why do you want to work here?

Let’s start this out by saying the answer should never be about money. Or benefits. Or other perks.

Instead, the answer to this question should follow this formula: be enthusiastic about the company, explain how your skills and career goals align with the role, and spell out how you, personally, will fit in with the culture. And, if you've long admired this organization, share why. Hiring managers tend to really like bringing people on board who have genuine admiration for the company, and specific reasons why they want to be there.

4. Why did you leave your last job / Why do you want to leave your current job?

No matter what your current employment situation is, the interviewer will want to know why the last job ended and why you want to move on to a new one. Again, the key here is honesty, with a hearty dose of strategy (if needed).

Maybe it was an issue of lack of movement in the company, or maybe a change in the brand’s focus that made it opportune for you to leave. Acknowledge your current or past employer in a positive way, but use them as a way to highlight your interests in the new job and what you’re looking to accomplish by moving forward with your career. 

5. What do you know about the company?

…AKA, the “how much do you really care about this job?” question. The interviewer isn’t looking for you to spew off a spreadsheet worth of sales, but really just want to see if you have done some research on the job. Do you know their current projects, top buyers, or recent features in the media? This is the question to show what you know, which really means you’re showing how much you care about the job and if you took time into preparing for the interview. Because, to interviewers, nothing says “don’t hire me” like a candidate who doesn’t know about the company. 

Of course, you'll be asked more than five questions in your next job interview. And, chances are, they will be behavioral-based questions just like the ones above. Employers ask these for a very logical reason: past performance is generally a pretty solid predictor of future performance.

They're working to figure out if you're qualified for this job, if you're going to fit in around the joint, and if people are going to like you once you settle in. 

Your best way to prepare? Study the common questions -- If you're interviewing with a larger company, head over to Glassdoor.com. You may even find specific questions that those who've gone before you were asked by that exact company.

Any which way, practice before the big day and, rather than robotically memorizing answers (if they wanted a robot, they wouldn't be interviewing people), think about how you can wrap your professional story around these questions. Which examples will you share, how can you explain a certain project or situation, and so forth.

And then, as you walk into the meeting? Get your Power Pose on and knock 'em dead.
 

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons (Samuel Mann)

Your Resignation Letter: How to Do It Right

You've landed a new job. And it's a good one. And you're excited about moving on.

Cue the confetti! The fireworks! The high-fives all around!

Firming up a job offer and planning for this next stage in your career is often such an exciting time. But there's one little thing left to do. And for most of us, it doesn't feel like so little of a thing at all.

If you're in a job that you'll soon be departing, it's time to think about the resignation letter.

How do you exit stage left from your current job gracefully, properly and with all bridges left unburned? Here's a quick list of do's and don'ts:

DO: Be Succinct and Straightforward

Even if you're feeling guilty or sad or bad or whatever about moving on, remember that this is business. People come, people go and pretty much no one crumbles or dies in the process. That said, you truly don't need to apologize, over-talk or provide every last detail about what you're doing and why.

State your intention, with specificity, and your proposed end date. Generally speaking, two weeks' notice is appropriate industry standard, but you can and should gauge how vital your role is, and timing of projects in progress when you consider how much notice to offer. (Also, factor in the required or desired timing of your new employer.)

DO: Be Conscientious

In the resignation letter, proactively propose the steps / actions you're willing to take during your final days, to help ensure a smooth transition. Offer to hand off projects to certain team members, wrap things up with clients, train someone on that thing you do (if you're the only one around who knows how to do it), etc. In short, make a clear offer to leave the company positioned for success as you walk out the door. 

Do note, however, that your proposed offer may not be accepted. Realize that some companies will ask you to leave immediately, once you tender your resignation. Don't be offended by this. Sometimes, it's policy. Sometimes, it's reactive emotions. And sometimes, companies fear what might happen if they allow you continued access to files and clients, when they know you're on the outbound. 

DO: Be Appreciative

Even if every fiber of your being wants to run screaming for the door, show some gratitude for the opportunity you've been given with your soon-to-be-former employer, and outline briefly something you've learned or gained from the experience and / or your boss. This shows that, in spite of the reasons for your departure, that you're truly one of the good guys.

DON'T: Give Zero Notice

Again, industry standard is two weeks' notice. Storm trooping the boss' office, throwing down your resignation letter, and storming out may give you loads of immediate gratification, but it's almost never going to be the right long-term solution. If you simply cannot give two weeks' notice (due to timing of the other job, or other factors), offer up at least a few days, so that you can help wrap things up, transition work, and close out your current projects.

DON'T:  Bad Mouth Anyone, Or the Company

The resignation letter is not, repeat: IS NOT the right place for airing grievances about your co-workers, boss or the organization you're leaving. The purpose of this letter is to succinctly state your intentions, and propose a timeline for your departure. This document is going to live on and on in your file. It should be to-the-point, and it should be written in "hold my head high" style.

If you do have grievances to lay out, the exit interview will give you an in-person opportunity to share this feedback (Just be sure and do it in a constructive manner).

DON'T: Try too Hard to Win Favor

Realize that not everyone is going to be happy when you resign. And, if you're super valuable, they may be downright pissy about your pending departure. That's totally natural, and should be expected.

And, while you may feel bad or guilty, you surely don't need to fall all over yourself in the resignation letter, trying to make sure they're not mad at you. Never offer up a timeline or propose a "before I go" workload that simply won't align your starting this new job, just to smooth feelings.

Again, some of your colleagues (and maybe your boss) are very well going to be surprised, annoyed, hurt or nervous that they're about to get a wheelbarrow full of extra work dumped on them. Your agreeing to stay an extra two weeks isn't going to fix that, and it could jeopardize your future at the new job. 

Be professional. Be appreciative. Be succinct. But don't go so far out of your way trying to be the good guy that you end up agreeing to something that doesn't work for your new commitments.

AND LAST: Be Confident in Your Decision

Once you have handed your resignation letter over to your supervisor (yes, if humanly possible, it should be done in person), don't waffle. It's done. Mission accomplished. If people around you are grumbly, so be it. Hold your head up as you serve out your last days. Be helpful and kind. Don't feed into any mopeyness, "jokes" about your departure, or snarkiness from those who hate to see you leave. Instead, stay focused on wrapping things up ... and get really excited about all the great things on your horizon.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons (EKGTechnicianSalary)

Why Self-Care Is Such an Important Job Search Tactic

Here we are.

We're deep into January, a month that people so often start with zest, hope and promise -- and end in frustration or despair, when things don't unfold precisely how we vowed or envisioned they would.

People don't respond to our job applications as fast as we want. Interviews are tougher than expected. We're tired from life's obligations, and struggling to carve time out to look for something new or better.

Maybe you're sad. Maybe you're angry. Maybe you're just flat-out all set at this point. (I know at least a few of you are; I've talked with you.)

If any of this sounds remotely familiar, I urge you to ask yourself this question:

How well am I caring for myself right now?

I"m not asking you to contemplate "How's my job search strategy?" Or, "How much harder could I be trying?" Or, "How bad is my luck here?"

I'm asking, "Scale of 1 to 10, how do I rate myself when it comes to both inner and outer self-care?"

So many of us put ourselves dead last when it comes to nurturing our bodies, our minds and our spirits. We tend to our children, we make sure our friends and family members' needs are all met, we volunteer for stuff we don't want to volunteer for, we attend functions we don't want to attend ... we go and we go and we go ... until there's absolutely nothing left for ourselves.

Or sometimes, we feel like it's plain selfish to put our well-being at the front of the line.

And so we just don't. 

The problem here is this -- When you let stress pile up (and I think we'll all agree that, even under the best of circumstances, job search and career pivots are pretty darned stressful), it will ultimately slow you down, at best. At worst, it'll completely take over your ability to function.

And if you're looking for a new job in 2017, "ability to function" is fairly high on the "must have" list.

Folks, self-care is not decadent. It's not selfish, it's not woo-woo, it's not even a little bit silly.

I can tell you this from personal experience. 

2016 was, in many ways, a fiasco for my family and me. The main highlights:

In February, my husband -- a fit and energetic cyclist -- was diagnosed with severe stress and high blood pressure -- to the point that his doctor suggested he change jobs, immediately.

In June, I was diagnosed with PTSD -- remnants of a decades-old assault that I'd not exactly gotten around to processing and recovering from. (Turns out, you should do this.)

In September, my husband's new-ish employer announced on a Tuesday that his job was moving to Dallas, and if he didn't wish to move, his last day of work would be Friday (we didn't wish to move).

Certainly, these were all (fortunately) overcome-able circumstances. But, when mixed in with the rigors of running a business and caring for an ever-active family, it was at times downright oppressive.

What got us through?

Aside from faith, stubbornness and more than a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc, it was deliberate self-care -- even when it felt selfish, woo-woo or a little bit silly. I started yoga (kicking and screaming my way all the way to the first class), and now practice 3-4 days a week. I blocked out semi-regular time in my calendar for pleasure reading, listening to music and walking the dog.

I tried green tea (gack, not for me). I paid attention to what I ate.

I even stuck a toe into guided meditation, a practice that I'm just getting started with, so I'll have to report back on how it goes.

I'm not suggesting these things miraculously transformed every stressful situation like some magical wand. We had some true doozies of stretches for a while there. But I will say without hesitation that unapologetic self-care helped make some of those "I can't take one more day of this" moments feel more like, "This rather sucks. I should take a few deep breaths and ease my way through it" moments.

How this relates to you

If you're in the middle of a job search or career pivot, you're going to operate much, much (muuuuccch) more effectively if you've got some semblance of calm, energy, mental clarity and physical stamina. You may not feel like Wonder Woman every day (or Hercules), for certain. This is tough stuff. But, by deliberately (and regularly) creating space for enjoyment, rest and well-being, you'll give yourself a fighting chance.

If you're feeling frustration or burnout already in 2017, consider finding two things this week to say no to, and two things (that are all about you) to say yes to. That's literally all this takes -- a starting point.

Even if it's just little by little, beginning to cultivate a habit of self-care (no matter how weird it feels) may not only be your ticket to sanity now; it also could play a vital role in accelerating the time between today and your first day at a great new job in 2017.

Take it from the gal who now swears by it.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons (Jessicahtam)

The 5 First Things to Do When You Want to Work in a New Town

Wanderlust.

Or, maybe it's a desire to get closer to family. Or a spouse who just landed a new job, in another state.

Or, perhaps, you just can't take another day of the stinking cold weather.

Whatever prompts your goal or need to find work in a new town, the common denominator is typically this:

It's intimidating. Confusing. Kind of foreign feeling. Not fun.

But it certainly doesn't have to be impossible. In fact, there are a few reasonably easy things you can do -- right away -- to help accelerate the time between now and when you sashay through the doors of your new employer, in your new town. Here are the five first things to consider:

1. Figure Out Who The Players Are, In Your Field (In this Town)

One of your most immediate goals should be to line up with the thought leaders, the movers and the shakers in your geography of interest. Follow their Twitter feeds (and retweet their most interesting stuff), ask questions in geography-specific LinkedIn groups, study the local business journals and try to ascertain the "who's who" in your sector. Head over to Meetup.com and find a gathering (assuming you can pay this town a visit) at which these types gather. Go to said gathering.

Introduce yourself to these people. Politely ask a quick question.

The more efficiently you can meet and align with the key players in your sector, in the town you want or need to move to, the better. This tactic will increase the odds that you'll hear about something you'd not have found otherwise, and give you a solid jump start on making new contacts and friends in your new town.

2. Use the "I'm New Here" Thing to Your Full Advantage

On this same note, by all means, use the "new kid in town" (or, "about to be the new kid in town") thing to your full advantage. I live in Portland, Oregon, and we are one of the most welcoming communities I've ever seen when it comes to helping out the recent transplants.

We all tend to root for the new guy. We want him to win, and we'll go out of our way to help him (or, of course, her). That being the case, be sure and use your "I'm going to be moving there soon" status as your door-opener when working to start conversations and figure out what's what and who's who in this new geography. 

3. Find a Recruiter Who Specializes in Your Field, In the Town You're Targeting

You're for sure not going to be any sort of an expert on which employers are amazing and which ones to steer clear of when you're looking in a new town. Likewise, you're probably not going to have many direct or indirect connections to people on the inside of companies of interest.

That said, you may find tremendous value in figuring out who the top recruiters are in this new town, especially the ones that represent clients, industries and / or job functions in which you're most interested. Call them up and introduce yourself.

One of the primary functions of a recruiter is to go out and find talent that aligns with their clients' current job openings. If you contact one who specializes in your sector, and introduce yourself proactively, you're likely doing them a favor -- you're taking one step out of the job that they're paid to do (go find you).

4. Find a Few Companies You Love, And Then Get to Their People

And don't just look for the obvious ones. (e.g. Nike = Portland, General Motors = Detroit, and so forth). Everyone and their brothers will be applying for jobs at the smack-in-the-forehead obvious employers in your future hometown.

Instead, try and uncover smaller regional (or local) firms that are doing work that you love (and have experience doing) and seem to have amazing corporate cultures. Pick your top 3-5 and then set about a plan to introduce yourself to people working in roles you admire, at companies you're eyeing.

You don't have to be weird or too in their faces as you approach. Simply introduce yourself, alert them that you're moving to town (Here's that "I'm the new guy" thing again), and see if you can ask a couple of questions about the company and / or their specific roles there.  

5. Make Your Plans Clear in Your Cover Letter

Employers sometimes wonder "What the heck?" when an out-of-town (or out-of-state) candidate applies for their open positions, especially if they have no budget dollars or plans to offer any sort of relocation package. Thus, unless you explain right out of the gates the reason why this gal from Tampa is applying for a job in Duluth, decision makers may swiftly dump your resume into the "no" pile before they've given it a second glance.

If you're specifically targeting one particular geography -- and, especially, if the wheels are already in motion for you to move there, you should clarify this in the cover letter. Imply that the wheels are already in motion and that this move is imminent. That way, you immediately and proactively ease worries on the part of the decision makers as to why you're applying, and if you're going to expect a handsome relocation package.

Try something like this: 

"As I prepare for a family relocation to Minneapolis, I've discovered that XYZ Company is currently looking for a senior project manager..."

Simple, and to the point.

Keep in mind that no one on the receiving end is a mind reader. They don't just automatically know why you're applying for a role so far from your current residence. Make this step easy for them.

While you may wish to sit behind the safety of your laptop screen and just apply for job after job that looks cool in the town that you're targeting, you're going to do yourself a HUGE favor by taking on a more proactive, networking-based approach.

Get on their radar. Endear yourself. And see if that doesn't get things moving along a bit faster.

Because, remember: Everyone roots for the new kid in town.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons (Austin Kirk)