Monthly Archives: March 2012

5 Keys to On-the-Job Success: No. 1 – Cultivate a Sense of Project Ownership

These five keys to cultivating on-the-job success come directly from Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 because they represent those qualities I have observed in people I have hired and who have gone on to enjoy successful, rewarding careers. First on the list is “Cultivate a Sense of Project Ownership.”

A sense of project ownership is prized by managers everywhere because it communicates to them that you bring to the job a quality mindset, a get-it-done-right-the-first-time approach to whatever project is being undertaken. And rarely do people work in isolation today; everyone is a member of a team, whether as a functional unit or on ad hoc project teams. And whose team doesn’t work hand in hand with other teams?

People who cultivate a sense of project ownership show concern for budgets, schedules, project handoffs (those task being give to you, and those you give to others), and meeting customer requirements—whether that customer is the job foreman, the CEO, or the consumer in the marketplace. It is a forward-moving focus that cannot help but pull in others in its wake. People who display a sense of project ownership are not clock-watchers—they often “call it a day” at some logical stopping point in their task, not when the clock says 5pm or when the whistle blows (union rules not withstanding).

Cultivating a sense of project ownership means that your level of commitment to the effort goes beyond your immediate sphere of influence with the project: to varying degrees, it overlaps with those of others adjacent to your responsibilities and deliverables. Cultivating a sense of project ownership doesn’t mean assuming responsibility for the schedule or deliverables of others—especially if others have already been assigned those responsibilities. But it does require being aware of the quality of the project tasks, assignments, and deliverables coming directly to you from another individual or function, and your ability to enhance the quality of those elements you forward along to the next person or function in the project flow.

Project ownership places you into a cooperative relationship with others whereby everyone learns from everyone else in a way that surpasses mere cognitive capabilities. It’s about developing and managing social intelligence, and when you marry together cognitive capabilities with social intelligence, breakthroughs happen.

It Doesn't Matter if the Hiring Manager Reads Your Cover Letter

Hi everyone…welcome to the CONFESSIONS OF A HIRING MANAGER blog of Encygnium.com. I moved the previous posts from the “jtkirk.wordpress.com” blog over to here now that there’s a new name for the company and I’ve dropped the pseudonym. Check out the “About” page for the details.

Don't underestimate the leverage of your cover letter

OK…so, some other hiring managers are blogging that cover letters aren’t important and that “no one reads them anyway.” They just don’t get it.

First of all, some hiring managers read cover letters and you want the one who reads yours to bring you in for an interview. The reason many hiring managers don’t read cover letters is because they are usually the worst examples of half-hearted attempts by people to sell themselves. A cover letter is never about youit’s always about the hiring manager’s needs. Until job applicants realize that, cover letters will continue to be unread and miss the point altogether.

Your cover letter serves the same purpose as an introductory letter if you were a consultant seeking new business. Such letters are written from the perspective of “I know your industry and the challenges you face; I know you need a game changer and a solutions provider for your team or business, and I have a demonstrated record of accomplishment to show that I can do the same for you.”

Here’s what the best cover letters contain (see my book, Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev 2. 0 for many annotated examples of both good and bad cover letters):

  • Addressed to a specific individual (ideally, the hiring manager)
  • Contains a bullet list of quantified accomplishments pulled from your résumé (actual revenues earned, costs avoided, percentage improvement, etc.–a “proven track record” is proven by quantified data, not just your say-so)
  • Takes an assertive position that you are the hiring manager’s problem solver he or she has been looking for
  • States clearly that you will call the hiring manager in a fews days to “discuss further how you can be a value-add contributor to the company’s bottom line.” (and make that call!)
  • Your cover letter contains more instances of “you/your/yours” than “I/me/my/mine”–it’s a rule of thumb indicator that signals whether your cover letter is directed at the hiring manager’s needs or your own.
  • One page or less in length
  • Does not contain the words “please” (as in “Please consider me for the position….”) or “love” (as in “I have always loved your company’s products…”)
  • Your cover letter is a summary of what you have to offer…its purpose is to get the hiring manager to move from cover letter to résumé

In the competitive job market and this economy (or any economy), you essentially have to take the job away from your competitors. No more namby-pamby “I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience” closing lines. Either you want the job or you don’t. You have to insert yourself into the hiring cycle rather than rely on chance and people feeling sorry for you–it never has worked that way before and I don’t see it changing in the future.

The cover letter is but another important document in your Professional Skills, Knowledge, and Experience (PSKE™) Portfolio that attests to your being perceived as just the expert the hiring manager was looking for.

Don’t neglect a carefully crafted cover letter…it is a critical component of your works history that attests to your expertise, and is an initial point of entry for additional details on your abilities, accomplishments, and capabilities.

Older Posts from Encygnium blog

Building a Professional Brand Image

Continuing with building a professional brand, there are three important elements to building a brand image that determine how hiring managers will respond to you (the product): Favorability, strength, and uniqueness of your offering.

Briefly, favorability relates to how strong your interpersonal skills have been honed; it’s the “likeability factor” hiring managers seek. They want to know if you’ll be a good personality fit for the team and can integrate with the corporate culture. Regret for a hiring manager is hiring a technically qualified individual who has personality issues that surface after being hired. It upsets the team dynamic because the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so to speak.

Strength addresses the degree of development of the requisite and optional skills you possess and how well those skills can be utilized on current and future projects.

Uniqueness of your offering is directed at the question: What is it about you (as a product) that differentiates you from other candidates for the position? What is is that separates you from the competition? The more unique it is (and more value it is perceived to have), the stronger your brand image.

Unique brand associations fall into three categories: attributes, benefits, and attitudes. Attributes relate to your “technical” performance on the job. While “non-technical” attributes may have little to do with actual performance, they can serve as cues that help reinforce additional positive associations. In product development, “packaging” can also serve as a cue to (but not proof of) product quality. The same can be said for creating your professional brand image: showing up for work in casual business attire instead of casual lounge attire can serve as a cue about your “product quality.”

Benefits are the specific brand features you project and provide that hiring mangers value. Benefits can be functional, which represent those features you possess; they can be experiential, which are linked to your technical expertise and your fit on the team or group; and they can be symbolic, which relate to the hiring manager’s self-concept and even higher order needs, such as social, self-esteem, or even how he or she sees her standing in the organization.

That’s a lot to put into a package, and understand that much of this processing by hiring managers is simultaneous and even instantaneous. Spend the necessary time to create the brand image you want to project to make you candidate of choice for any internal or external job or career opportunity.

Create and Manage Your Professional Brand in the Job Market

Part of my experience as a hiring manager in marketing and communications functions in the high-technology sector included participating in test marketing of various product-branding campaigns with potential consumers.  As the Apple iPhone and iPad have taught us, the right branding campaign for a highly desirable product the consumer needs or wants (or is told they need it) can create favorable associations that lead to a larger mindshare and marketshare.  All other wannabes usually are competing for the “catch-up crumbs.” Working with consumers in different target markets has taught me that building brand value involves two important components: making others aware of the brand in question, and creating a brand image that generates positive associations.

The same principle applies in the employment arena, whether you are looking for a permanent or contract position, or whether you are seeking additional clients for your business.  This subject of relating product branding to personal/professional branding is too big and important for just several blog posts (in fact, it’s the subject of my next book), but over the next few posts, I’ll give you the three high-level ideas that you can use immediately about developing your professional brand: Brand awareness, brand image, and brand attitudes…but first, a word about brand equity.

How Brand Equity is Created

How and why people buy things is fundamentally an exercise in behavioral psychology involving consumer memory. Radio, TV, print, Internet, and WiFi ads are all aimed at burrowing into your memory for future recall when you have a need for some particular product or service. Advertising and marketing experts know that memory structure in the brain involves the creation of associative models, which consist of a network of nodes and links. Basically, these nodes are sites of stored information (logos, tag lines, jingle, etc.) that are connected by links of varying intensities.  The intensity of the association between stored information locations reconciles which sites (and how many of them) are triggered for recall.

This same process occurs in the employment arena hiring cycle, and how businesses want their products and services to be perceived in the marketplace. If you’re looking for permanent or contract employment, or promoting your own business, your task is to create positive associations between your quantified accomplishments first, followed by your professional skills, knowledge, and experience—however you package them—and the people with a need for that expertise. Your “brand” is the single conceptual association others create based on your real and perceived professional (and personal) reputation in your specific profession or field.

Building Brand Equity through Brand Awareness

Building personal/professional brand equity first involves making others aware of your brand, and upon this foundation building a prominent image composed of positive associations about your brand. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a position in your field, promoting your own business, or wanting to build your own professional brand in the company for which you work, you must get your name embedded in the “associative models” of others. Here are a few ways, when properly managed, to build brand awareness (which could also be called “name recognition”):

  • Writing articles for peer-reviewed journal
  • Giving presentations or workshops at professional association meetings and conferences
  • Networking with other professionals in your particular field
  • Using social media (blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) to expand your circle of potential influence (be sure you have something of value to say; the virtual world is already overflowing with mindless blither)
  • Write a book on a particular issue in your profession or field

In Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0, I discuss in detail the “Continuous Promotion Approach” as a post-intervew strategy that reinforces your brand equity to the hiring manager and/or the hiring team. A job interview demonstrates that people are aware of your “brand” through your cover letter, resume, and the interview. The Continuous Promotion Approach builds on the awareness you have created by reinforcing the value and equity that is associated with your demonstrated accomplishments, skills, knowledge, and experience.

The most critical aspect of brand awareness is the formation of information in the memory in the first place. A “brand awareness memory node” must first be in place before people can make any brand associations. Without that established brand node in the memory, it is impossible to build a brand image, which will be the subject of my next post.

What can be said for a personal/professional brand was said about baseball diamonds in the middle of cornfields: if you build it they will come.  Get in people’s minds first; the opportunities will follow.

What are you doing to build awareness of your personal/professional brand?

Your Attitude–and not Your Technical Abilities–Define Your On-the-Job Success

In my book, 50 Things You Can Do NOW to Help Keep Your Job (May 2011, Kings Crown Publishing), I relate how just about every one of the fifty individual items mentioned in the book can be placed into one of two buckets. One of those buckets is labeled “Communication skills” and the other is labeled “People skills.” The underlying factor common to both is how well you manage your attitude. There’s a near limitless supply of technically qualified candidates for just about every kind of job (some of those jobs are filled quicker than others, though), but not every technically qualified candidate has the right attitudes to ensure success.

Leadership IQ tracked 20,000 new hires over a three-year period and discovered that when new hires fail, it’s not because of any lack of technical proficiency–it’s because they failed to display the necessary attitudes for success. Leadership IQ reports that 46% (that’s 9,200 people) got fired, received poor performance reviews, or had letters of reprimand placed in their personnel file within their first eighteen months on the job.

Here are the top 5 reasons why new hires failed*:

  1. 26% failed for lack of coachability
  2. 23% failed for lack of emotional intelligence
  3. 17% failed for lack of motivation
  4. 15% failed for wrong temperament for the organization
  5. 11% failed for lack of technical competence

Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, lists in his book, Hiring for Attitude, the differences between high and low performers (which parallels my assessment in 50 Things):

  • High performers are highly collaborative, assist others without being asked without seeking recognition or reward
  • Low performers routinely seek out individual recognition and focus on personal reward
  • High performers provide constructive, respectful feedback to colleagues
  • Low performers often provide feedback that angers or belittles colleagues
  • High performers take personal responsibility for quality and timeliness of project work without excuses or blame
  • Low performers blame others consistently for errors, delays and poor quality of project work
  • High performers are self-directed learners, and are self-motivated to acquire new skills and knowledge they need for the job
  • Low performers have a negative disposition and often provide excuses for why a process or task won’t work instead of determining how to make it work

Thomas Jefferson once wrote “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

The evidence speaks for itself.

*as published in The Journal of the American Management Association Vo. 10, No. 4 Winter 2011-2012, p. 22.