Friday, September 2, 2011

What's Bridging?

Bridging is a way to make money and stay on your feet while you're in transition between jobs, careers or depressed markets.

Here's why you need to have a "Bridge".

Since 2008 great numbers of smart, hardworking, dedicated employees who had spent the majority of their lives making personal sacrifices for the sake of career, and giving up huge amounts of personal freedom in order to chase the American Dream were left jobless, homeless and hopeless. By no fault of their own, everything they had worked for over years and decades was gone. Many of these professionals, amateur and seasoned alike, had no plan hadn't been necessary.

Shock, denial, anger, fear and grief can sieze a person's ability to be proactive, or even to function as one normally would. Long-term unemployment along with a lack of structure and focus can result in long term depression/anxiety in some people, further damaging one's perception of their own value as a contributor to work, family and society.

Professionals with good networking skills learned quickly how to create opportunities through social and professional contacts, developing a database of connections to prospect and identify job leads, interim positions, contracts and would-be hiring managers. Many developed a systematic approach for gathering and maintaining data using smart phones, card scanners, simple databases and on-line tools to keep information handy. For many unemployed people, a wonderful "pay-it-forward" attitude seemed almost contagious...everyone knew someone who wanted to help, even if it was just a phone call. While a phone call seems like a lot to ask of a very busy person, a perceptive shift in priority took hold and it felt good to give of oneself with no M.O.

But if you weren't particularly good at networking, or you had a job that didn't expose you to a lot of other people, there is a relatively good chance that you struggled hard...or may be still be find a new job. You may have even resigned to starting a whole new career. Thus, the "Bridge".

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and while no one wants to take a job in desperation, many are forced to. Even though it's unlikely we'll ever see a job depression and economic recession to this magnitude again, it's not impossible that more mini-dips will occur in the future. Having to ride out multiple job market crisis' may be a necessary evil in our new economy. So, what about that bridge already?

So, here's what I mean by "Bridging". Think about your personal interests, your passions, your obsessive little hobbies that absorb you to the point where you lose all track of time (and I don't mean shopping on QVC!). These are the distractions that give us the most pleasure and sense of unique personal identity.

Now, dream big.

What if you could create an income doing that one thing, or series of things, that may not make millions, but could possibly earn you enough money to ride out a short financial tempest? Seem a little like a pipe dream? Good! You're on the right track. Next; write down to the smallest detail how you would monetize this hobby. That's the tricky part. Not every hobby makes money, and not every hobbiest who makes money can live on what they make. But this is where it makes sense to do some research and get advice on how to monetize a business. There are a great number of non-profit organizations that garner the business experience and intelligence of professionals who have made scads of money in their lifetime, or have been able to launch successful businesses time after time. There's a local network called "SCORE" which is essentially a business launching program designed to pair up proven entrepreneurs and experienced executives with people who need help to launch their own dreams.

But even if you don't have resources available to you, or finding a local group to foster your idea is difficult, start growing it organically and seek out the advice of friends and family on how to use your bridge to create an income. Often you can start with a modest business plan or dream board. A dream board is a creative visual roadmap that is ever-present in your living space. It can include articles and photos on your personal interest, success stories of others who built their bridge from their hobbies, and achieveable financial and business goals for your first year of business. Anything that provides positive mental reinforcement.

You can also begin to plan for your bridge. Write it all down, and don't judge, edit or filter the information. It can be as big and imaginative as you want. It isn't designed to make you feel overwhelmed, but to give as clear a picture as possible of what your dream business would look like. Include details about your workspace, the kind of equipment or in-home services you would need, how much you think you could earn weekly, monthly, quarterly, what kind of expenses you may have. Be practical too. Figure out what your tax implications might be, who you could call on to help if the business begins to grow, even pick out the color on the walls of your office...every detail. Then, start implementing a few of those plans. By no means am I suggesting quiting your job or leasing office space, but maybe you buy a few of the inexpensive materials you'll need, or open up a business checking account and calling around to a few suppliers and ask about prices. You never know where those conversations can lead you!

I'm calling this concept "Bridging" because it's designed to carry you over troubled waters. But it can also be as short or as long as you want. The most important aspect of developing a bridge is passion. It is the thing that you love to do when you're not doing other working for a paycheck and benefits. It's also the thing that would make you feel the most fulfilled, that feels nothing like work but satisfies you completely. It should be the sort of occupation that makes even the most unenjoyable aspect of it seem like a picnic. And, the fact that it pays doesn't alter your enjoyment factor, but enhances your quality of life.

This is also a great idea for those who are entering into retirement in the next five to ten years. For so many people, going into retirement seems like a layover to heaven's waiting room. But that's because many retirees haven't prepared "bridge-work" in advance of their retirement. The plan was to perhaps move someplace warmer, play golf, visit with children and grandchildren, or travel. But retirement is now considered a lofty ambition for even the most financially conservative person. Most of us will work long past 65 years of age. Now is the time to think about what you want to do when you can't do what you've been doing any longer. I'll let you read that sentence's kind of fun.

Bridging may not be for everyone. After all, it does mean organizing, planning, and working through some complex issues such as capital costs, R&D, financial risk and understanding basic business practices. But the wide availability of free resources has certainly helped to take some of the fear factor out of a small business launch. Another factor is being able to utilize social networks to your advantage, and it's never too late to learn how to do this.

What I have learned from many of my less social candidates over the past three years is that not everyone has kept up with social networking. And some are down right allergic to the concept. The networkers among us who were successful at finding a new job quickly didn't necessarily have a bridge either, per se, but they did not get bogged down by "why me?", or get gripped by the fundamental fear of failure. They simply chose to see their fate as an opportunity to do something different. Had they been given a bit more time to prepare (say, six months to a year), many of them would have landed on their financial feet a lot faster, and found their emotional ground a lot sooner.

But the challenge for the rest of us is trying to leverage the talent, skills and experience we've worked so hard to hone in a like industry. Some may never find a comparable position to the one we left behind, and some may find precisely that but realize they are still stuck in a dead-end job. In either case, Bridging is a great way to create your own personal rip-cord and safety net should the sky fall again. The next time someone asks you about your Plan B, you can tell them you're building a bridge.

What's Your Five Year Plan?

While this seems like a question that any recent grad or seasoned veteran will field during a typical interview (and hopefully they prepared for it), it's actually a great question to ask yourself. After all, the answer to it is much more important to you than the person who has posed it.

The reason you should have a five year plan is fundamental; to set up of series of steps and conditions that will lead to your personal success and happiness. For example, if you are in a job now that you enjoy but doesn't quite elicit a sense of passion or excitement for the industry, product or service you support, then you need to start thinking about a career change. Getting yourself ready for that leap will require an investment of time and effort outside the work week, and may even include additional training, education and a geographic move. Giving yourself five years to make that transition may be just enough time to get your ducks in a row...that is, if all goes according to plan.

Life has a wonderful way of reminding us who is steering the ship. It may be necessary to step away from your professional helm to address other needs such as starting a family, supporting a spouse's career decisions, or even taking care of a sick child or aging parents. These things happen and they can absolutely throw us off course. But what you don't want to be is "rudderless". You want to know what your shooting for, and why. There are a myriad of reasons, but primarily because you don't want to find yourself ten years from now wondering why you stayed in a job, company or industry that doesn't resonate with you any longer.

What typically happens to someone in mid-career crisis is the realization that they've invested too much time in a dead-end job or boring industry. However, their earnings have grown substantially with tenure and experience, as has their style of living. They soon realize it doesn't make good financial sense to leave, but it doesn't make good personal or professional sense to stay either. Never mind the sneaking suspision they're missing out on something incredibly fun.

When you rank the demands of your lifestyle over the demands of your life, you make compromises that are not easily resolved. And the hole gets deeper the longer you stay. That's not to say you can't find a comparable position with comparable pay in another industry. However, making the business case to a hiring manager to choose you over a more experienced candidate is a tough sell. Twice as true in a poor job market when qualified candidates are aplenty.

You need a plan, plain and simple. It doesn't have to be elaborate, but it should be something you're committed to for your own sake. And, it's not something you need to share during an interview either, especially if it has nothing to do with the job or company you're applying for today. If it does, that's great...enjoy the ride! If it doesn't, then offer an honest but less detailed plan that applies to the new position, in an ideal circumstance, that includes job security and longevity.

Whatever your answer, the bottom line is no one knows precisely where they will be in five years, including your potential new boss, because life has a way of making other plans for them, too. Having a plan can take a lot of anxiety out of the future, particularly when you're not sure whether you'll really enjoy your chosen career or potential employer.

Next time a hiring manager asks you what your five year plan is, maybe you should ask them the same question.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Guns and Moccasins...the importance of steel-toed boots.

Remember that old saying about how you shouldn't judge someone until you've spent a day walking around in their moccasins? If you're a hiring manager, you're probably well aware of how difficult it is to NOT judge a candidate. It's sort of a requirement, isn't it? Nothing is more painful for a hiring manager then the moment when a perfectly good candidate screws up a perfectly good interview. And the candidate may even be completely unaware that they've just shot themselves point blank in their moccasin. Do you tell them? Or do you just ride out the next forty five minutes hoping you don't appear disengaged?

You want to end the interview quickly, it seems less painful for both of you. But you carry on despite the fact that this person hasn't got a ghost of a chance of getting this job. You do this out of respect for their feelings, and so you don't have to explain what they did wrong.

It's not so much that you're judging the candidate as a person, but you wonder whether the candidate had any idea how poor their judgment was in telling you what they did. People shoot themselves in the foot everyday. For the sake of being completely honest, open, no secrets, wide open...and then they leave the interview limping. This happens due to a lack of preparation, being caught off guard by a question that requires a lot of explanation, or worse, an inability to hear themselves talk as they are explaining. And you, as hiring manager, have a responsibility to hire people who have good communication skills, self awareness and the ability to evangelize (internally and externally) your company, brand, product or service from a position of strength, without sounding like they are making excuses.

As a candidate, when you can't hear what you are saying, and how it is being interpreted by the hiring manager across the desk, you're bound to make a few errors in judgment during the interview. For example, when a hiring manager hears that you were one person in a 40% company-wide layoff, the first question they are likely to ask themselves is "why weren't you part of the 60% the company retained?". When you have taken a reduction in overall compensation at each of your last three jobs, you may think this makes you a more financially attractive sales candidate. That seems like the best way to pitch yourself. But when interviewing for a sales position, where success is measured almost completely by numbers, how do you expect you will measure up to your contemporaries during a competitive job interview? Isn't it true that to the victor goes the spoils? So ask yourself a question...does the truth you tell about yourself sell you, or sell you short?

DO NOT MISREPRESENT YOURSELF!!! That's not what I'm saying. You may have been legitimately short listed for layoffs at your company because you were the last one hired. But say THAT instead of saying you were a part of the 40% that lost their jobs in 2010. This answer is likely to be misinterpreted as a lack of performance rather than the common rule of last one hired, first one let go. The bottom line is the truth will set you just need to know how to present the facts WHILE maintaining a position of strength. The best way to do this is to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager and try to interpret what information is being received from their perspective. Look for inconsistencies in your reason for leaving, potential red flags and undesirable circumstances in your career history that could come across as poor judgment, poor performance or a lack of insight/awareness on your part. Role play with a trusted colleague, someone who is a strong interviewer, and let them tell you what you said AND what they heard. You may want to do this a few times in preparation for the real thing. Understand that every company wants to hire a superstar, and they CAN right now. When in a position of choice due to a poor job market, why should any company hire someone who doesn't present themselves that way?

Consider also that as the job market picks up, all of those gainfully employed high performers will start to look selectively...and they will have a lot of choices. It sounds unfair, but it is the truth. There are many hiring managers who have been somewhat unaffected by the economic crash (with respect to their professional stability) and their goal may be to attract and retain others who show that same resilience. After all, these candidates must have been very strategic or exceptionally talented to have evaded being downsized. Right? Well, maybe...maybe not. The bottom line is you need to set yourself apart and create the best possible presentation in order to advance your candidacy to the next round. Do you know what you're doing wrong in an interview? If not, there are a lot of good resources out there to help you. However, if you want to keep walking around with that revolver in your pocket thinking it's your best line of defense, then stop wearing moccasins. I think I've got a pair of steel-toed boots in your size. Let me know, I'll bring my shoe horn and a mirror.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Race for Talent is ON!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!! The race is on...for talent, that is. Over the last six weeks there has been a gradual increase in job posts by companies and recruiting firms, job search activity, interview requests and hiring. These are leading indicators that the pendulum is swinging back in the direction of an improving job market. Here's what hiring manager's can expect to change over the coming days, weeks and months.

Good talent won't wait for you:

In the last three years if you have become accustomed to interviewing 10 - 15 people for each open position over a twelve week period, that process will no longer serve you. Several of my clients have held out for Ms./Mr. Perfect Candidate only to find out they don't exist, then lose the one or two that would have fit the role quite nicely. Candidates have choices now and they won't wait around for a Company to do exhaustive comparative interviews for months. By all means, conduct thorough interviews and continue to harvest quality potential employees. But also be prepared to hear from your top two or three would-be hires that they are either off the market, or receiving competing offers. They aren't waiting for you to make a decision, they are going with the best "timely" offer.

Make strategic offers:

Before you strike with an offer make sure you think about the timing of your candidate's readiness to receive it. If you are the first one to the gate, the candidate will undoubtedly see you as the most motivated Hiring Manager with a "lets get it done now" attitude. This shows your ability to influence, garner internal consensus and to make a decision. Getting an offer should mean a lot to your candidate and treated with proper consideration, so they may need a few days to make a decision.

However, if your candidate is still in the middle of his/her process, you may end up waiting at the altar for a few weeks while they consider other proposals from suitors who show up late to the game. Inquire as to where your candidate of choice is in their interview process after the first round and determine whether it makes sense to strike fast and early, or hold out until they have a few more rounds and are further along in vetting the job landscape and their market value. Unfortunately, this can mean losing your leverage, and your favorite candidate. But making a grand offer early can set the expectation that you may be willing to wait and counter-offer against a higher bid. You never want to buy someone, but you don't want to make yourself too vulnerable as your offer may be used as leverage to get a higher bid from a competing company as well. In this case, look very closely at that person and determine whether they are worth the wait and the tug of war. Do they want the job for the right reasons, or are you simply hiring a flight risk?

When you have determined that there is no better candidate for the position, provide a written offer (not verbal, the less tangible it is the less real it seems to the candidate) and indicate an offer expiration date on the letter. This lets your candidate know they have to make a decision and can demonstrate they want the job based on the merits of the position, and not the compensation itself. Make it a week or two, but not a month. More than two weeks gives an impression it is O.K. for them to shop on your time.

Also, try to hold off on offering the top of the scale in case a competing offer comes in higher. Your candidate should be in touch to keep you informed of their progress. If contact with your candidate lags for more than a week, you may have a problem. Keep your alternate candidate close and keep your search open.

Never Stop Closing:

A signed offer letter and gracious acceptance never stops a person from considering an attractive counteroffer, even when they are already in their new seat. Between the day your new employee accepts the offer and the day they start, it's a good idea to do three light "touches". There are many acceptable reasons to call your new employee, for example, a call to make sure they received the pre-employment package and payroll data has been processed. Perhaps a call to ask them if they have everything they need for their first day (time to report, dress code, what to expect the first day). Maybe a day or two before their start date you call to let them know you're taking them to lunch on the first day. You can come up with your own reasons for the "touch" points, but it can help encourage a deeper rapport, lets them know they are important to you, and the organization, and allows you an opportunity to ask them if their "giving notice" process went well.

As you probably know, giving notice is very stressful for most people. Some candidates expect strong responses from managers and colleagues...and often get both positive and negative emotions. But really valuable performers almost always receive some sort of counteroffer from their current employer...and not always in the form of more money. Often an emotional counteroffer can trigger an even more emotional response, and result in reconsideration of the new employer's offer. Many good managers have special attachments to their people and, if they are highly motivated to keep someone, they will pull out all the stops. How can you blame them? The very reasons you want to hire that person are likely the same reasons their manager wants to keep them. Unless that candidate has other reasons to leave (relocation, layoff, company struggling), you need to be prepared for a fall-off.

Once the candidate is in the door, stay vigilant. Talk to them every day if you have to until you feel sufficiently satisfied that you all made the right decision and they are with you to stay.

Retention and Growth:

As a manager, retaining people and keeping them happy remains one of your biggest challenges. You can't hold onto someone who doesn't want to stay. So, if one of your top employees decides to give their notice, make sure you do everything you can to get to the bottom of their RFL (Reason For Leaving). There may be one or two things you can't do anything about (promotion to a higher level, salary, geography), but there may be other ways you can entice your people to stay. If they trust you, they are more likely tell you what the primary considerations were in deciding to put their resume out there in the first place. If you are empowered to make adjustments to their situation to retain them, do so. It will cost you a lot more time, money, and grief to hire and train their replacement. If you decide to make a financial counteroffer without addressing deeper concerns, be aware that this may be just a temporary band-aid. After time, the employee's real problem(s) will resurface and they will ultimately may take six months to a year, but statistically it is well understood that once an employee has mentally checked out, you don't really want them there anymore. When an employee sites "lack of growth" as their primary RFL, take a good look at your team. Chances are, if one person feels this way, the others on the team may as well. Once the market picks up unhappy employees will sometimes move on en mass, crippling a group, division or a whole company, and creating an internal disaster for the management team. When an employee gives their notice, this is a great time to consider growing one of your people for the opening in the group. Demonstrating that you care about your employee's future and a desire to invest in their job satisfaction could keep you from losing more of your best and brightest.

If no one is qualified to fill the position, it may be a good idea to implement a training program and have a few people ready and able to step in the next time an A player unexpectedly goes AWOL. On the other hand, an infusion of fresh energy and ideas could be just what you need in your group, a new employee can also improve the dynamics of your team. So go hire yourself a new Superstar...they're out there right now!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Women and the Workplace - Free Workshop!!

Join me for a "Women and the Work Place" workshop on Friday, January 21st at 6:30 p.m. at the Whitman Wellness Center in Whitman, MA Click on the link below for address and more information!

I am offering a series of three workshops to Women and the Workplace starting Friday, January 21st at 6:30 p.m. The topics include how to find joy in your job, practical job search strategies for those in transition, and a short discussion on managing the now more common breadwinner/home-maker role (and role-reversal!). Attendees are encouraged to bring pen and paper, and their best/worst job search stories. Anyone can participate in the discussion or, if you prefer, just sit back and listen. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hold the Phone! Is this really an Interview?

Phone screens have become a more common first step in the interview process. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages, and using proper "phonetique" can help you secure an in-person interview. While screening a candidate over the phone certainly can save the hiring manager time, it also puts you (the interviewee) in a vulnerable position. For HR screens, a phone interview offers a cursory glance over you as a person, communicator and professional. It can also provide both parties a rapport building opportunity in advance of a first meeting. But there are a few pitfalls that unwitting candidates can avoid to ensure an in-person interview will follow the phone call. Here are a few insights on what hiring manager's and phone screener's (HR) are looking for during that brief call:

1) How do you sound? Not just the quality of your communication skills, but do you sound approachable? Connected and engaged? Do you sound like a smart person? Are you comfortable with yourself? Do you have confidence and charisma? Do you sound like you know what you're talking about? This is the hard part. Everyone has a filter, and what someone chooses to hear is completely out of your control.

The primary problem with phone interviews is they rob you of critical sensory information, data that can actually help you self-correct in an interview. When you don't have the benefit of eye contact and body language, you have no clue as to what the interviewer is perceiving and responding to in that moment. Knowing whether they may be bored, distracted, or disinterested can sometimes be detected by eye contact, posture, physical movements or even by the way they are breathing. Can you tell if someone is smiling over the phone? Sure you can! Can you tell if they are listening with rapt attention or reading their emails? No, you can't. If the interviewer is simply going through the motions of the screen and has already determined you're not a good fit, you're going to waste a lot of time and energy trying to re-engage them. So, it's a good idea to employ active listening skills and "check in" after you've finished a sentence to ask whether they want you to expand or move onto the next question. During a phone interview, or any interview for that matter, go for balanced talking/listening time. Make sure you and the other person have equal portions of time for information exchange. You don't want them to hang up with more questions than answers, and vice-versa.

2) Do you fit the position? While you may not have a deep technical conversation during a phone interview, the hiring manager or HR person you are speaking with will run through the requirements of the position to ascertain whether your background fits the basics of the role. Education, career progression, industry, title, comparative company sizes, functional experience, where you "sit" in the organization, and compensation will be a few of the primary indicators of fit. But they may also ask you details about your prior positions and companies you have worked for. This is a distinct advantage of the phone interview and one that interviewees sometimes overlook. Having your resume in front of you takes an enormous amount of pressure off of you to blindly recall details and dates, specifics about your projects and accomplishments. It is normal to draw a blank in the middle of an interview when an interviewer asks you what month you left a company or the name of the software system you worked on ten years ago. The beauty of the phone interview is that you have that information at hand and no one will judge you for glancing down at your resume for key reminders.

3) Interest level. You don't know enough about the job yet, so how do you communicate the appropriate amount of interest and enthusiasm? Overstating your interest might make you sound naive or too eager, while understating it may give the impression that it's not your top choice or there's something about the opportunity that turns you off. Don't gush, instead simply state that you're highly interested in the opportunity, eager to learn more about the company and looking forward to meeting them in person. Also be sure to ask them for feedback if they felt, for whatever reason, you were not the right fit for the role based on what they learned during the call. This information can help you prepare for the next time a phone interviewer comes calling.

The difference between a phone screen and a phone interview is determined by who is conducting the interview, the amount of time they have allocated for the call, and the information they are gathering from you. As corporate "gate-keepers", the HR screen is often a way to determine in advance whether you are well spoken, appropriately aligned to the role and the corporate culture, and whether you have done your due diligence on the company and the position, and fall within the budget relative to compensation package.

A phone interview with the hiring manager should never be mistaken as a phone screen. Often this will be your one shot at convincing the decision maker they need to meet you in-person. It is your opportunity to demonstrate your fit relative to overall experience, soft skill set, caliber and personal chemistry with them. If you are not asked to come in for an in-person round during the phone interview, it's not necessarily a bad sign. They may need to run the process through the proper channels to ensure both HR and additional team members are scheduled accordingly. Or, they may be in the process of phone interviewing others and will hold off on making decisions about in-person invitations until after they have spoken with all viable candidates. It is perfectly acceptable to ask a hiring manager or HR where they are in the process and what to expect for timing on next steps. It is also in your best interest to ask how long the position has been open for and what their timing is on making the hire. Knowing this allows you to better manage your own process and timing relative to other potential interviews.

The best advice I can offer candidates who are not natural interviewers and struggle with connecting to another human being through a hand-held device is this; pretend that you are talking to a friend or colleague. Be yourself, be calm, be energetic but be aware of your speaking speed and volume. If you tend to be a "fast" talker, try to speak slowly and through a slight grin. When the corners of your mouth are turned up, you also tend to lift your voice. The perception is that you are a happy person. If you want to experiment with this idea, try it on the phone with a family member or friend. Don't tell them what you're doing, but ask them if you sound cheerful or phony. You will find most will feedback that you sound good natured and friendly.

If you really want to come across as a polished and professional executive, dress for the phone interview. Most home-based employees will tell you that they are far more productive, focused and feel more professional when they dress for their home-based desk. Though it's more common to dress for comfort, or stay in pj's and fuzzy slippers as most people do for morning phone interviews, putting on professional garb can boost your mindset and energy to a perceptible level of readiness that comes across on any medium. It is also a good practice to dress before a phone interview because you never know when a hiring manager may make a last minute suggestion to speak over Skype!!

As the US continues to evolve into a mobile workforce, our reliance upon technology to keep us connected will only increase over time. Getting comfortable with virtual connection to others is not only critical to your search process, it may someday soon become a requirement of employment. Now is the time to develop good virtual practices and stellar "phonetique" own word for phone etiquette and technique.

If you are looking for more tips on how to ace a phone interview, feel free to contact me for a consultation!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Name of the Game

Three of the most stressful events almost every person eventually faces besides death and divorce are getting married, moving and changing jobs. In almost all of these situations, the position of power, choice, control and decision-making is in the hands of those completely invested in the process. All, except one. When you are in a job search, the process of decision-making and power of choice rests almost completely in the hands of the company and their hiring manager(s). Your destiny can very much rest with the person sitting across from you who has spent less than half a day getting to know you. What did they learn about you?

Interviewing is stressful, unpredictable, and anxiety provoking. There are under-qualified people who are born interviewers that know exactly what to say, how to say it, and can overcome almost any obstacle in the process. Interviewing is, for lack of a better term, a game...of sorts. When you consider that your image is going to count for more than 15% of the overall impression a hiring manager has of you, and another 15% or more is directly related to how well you communicate both verbally and physically, the only two things left to tip the scales in your favor are hard skills (50%) and gut instinct...though, not your gut instincts.

The fact that each of the meetings set up in the interview process is called a "round", immediately conjuring up the image of a golf club or a gun, it's no wonder you're anxious. The word "game" pretty much describes how the interview process can feel to some people. In a best-case scenario, you may experience an interview process like a wonderful day out on the course with three of your newest friends. In the worst-case, it feels like target practice. Except you are on the bad end of the gun. To have been called for the interview in the first place is a lot like winning the lottery, so the comparison to a game is not far-fetched.

Lets start by considering that your job search begins with a resume patiently and perfectly crafted to reflect years of professional experience and personal investment. It is then transported through the miracle of technology into a massive database of other perfectly crafted resumes to rest patiently for the fateful moment when a company's HR person happens to key in the exact sequence of search terms that then return a result including your resume...along with 300 others. The fact that the phone rings at all seems like a scratch-ticket moment.

Resume screening and selection is an almost completely data-driven, fact-finding process. Using complex key search terms, functional titles, industry jargon, and geographic indications, the human resources department is able to weed through hundreds or thousands of applicants to find the most data-relevant resumes in their database. Even in companies where resume gathering and selection is done less with technology and more traditionally, the same methodology applies. Find the best matches based on the hiring manager's specific criteria...and it's almost always data-driven/fact-based indicators. Overall years of experience, career progression over a specific time period, title, industry, zip code and salary.

This is wonderfully effective most of the time because it helps the hiring manager to stay focused on precisely the background and skills demonstrated by the candidate in order for them to be successful in the role. It offers the hiring manager supporting evidence and essential proof points to demonstrate the due diligence applied and utilized to make a final candidate selection. And sometimes they have a first, second and third candidate choice. Well done!

But did you know that often the final decision is made solely on one completely immeasurable, proof-less, and sometimes unjustifiable notion? It's gut instinct. That little bit of nagging doubt on the part of the interviewer that, for whatever reason, prevents him/her from finalizing the offer letter. There is the irony that always seems to strike from a distance. A highly data-driven, fact-based methodology can be completely undone by one inexplicable feeling.

And that's the beauty of the interview process. And, that's why you should take every interview, every meeting, every opportunity to meet a potential hiring manager. Because you just never know who you and your resume will resonate with, and where the best fit for you might be found.

In addition to learning about a company's mission, its culture, the position itself and the overall opportunity, you can also make an indelible impression on a hiring manager who may have more than one position to fill. Or, will remember you the next time an opening develops in his/her group. The personal take-away is the opportunity to develop, practice or enhance your interviewing skills. This can be invaluable for those who have not interviewed in many years, or are natural introverts and have difficulty connecting with complete strangers. Becoming a strong interviewer requires a strong sense of your own personal strengths, an awareness of your presence and interpersonal skills, and the ability to handle rejection with dignity and grace. Practicing gratitude and mindfulness when receiving feedback will also demonstrate maturity and ability to handle a challenging situation.

In terms of interviewing, practice makes perfect. As with any game, the more you play the better you become. Though you may spend more time on the bench at first, use that time to prepare for the field. Read and research interview techniques, target lists of interesting companies, and work on developing a confident presence. Ask a trusted friend or former colleague to run you through a mock interview...and ask them to give you fair and complete feedback. The right opportunity will not require you to be someone else, but learning how to bring your best self to the table takes practice. This not only means overcoming the anxiety and stress of the interview process, but developing the confidence to connect with a virtual stranger on both the professional and personal level. Have patience with yourself and keep playing the game.