Are You a Basic or an Upgraded Model

It can be tough to find a new position in the workplace. Many factors come into play when you put yourself, or circumstances put you, into the job market. When you have submitted application after application with no response, or you have had interview after interview without an offer it is very frustrating. When coaching people in this situation one of the things we look at is what they are bringing to the table for the jobs they are trying to get. One thing that has been helpful to them and may be helpful to you is to think of buying a car.

The Car: The Analogy

As you are walking the car lot in search of your next car. The salesperson walking with you chatters away as they tend to do. You know what your budget is and no amount of sales talk can change that. As you stroll up and down the aisles of cars, and there are hundreds of them on the lot, one model catches your eye. You give it the once over, kick the tires, look under the hood, look in the passenger cabin and the trunk. You look as the price sticker and it seems affordable. You need transportation and this would do nicely. Just as you turn to talk price, you catch a glimpse of another model. You walk over to it and give it the once over but the salesmen starts to point out all the extras that come included with this particular model. Good, reliable transportation but with all the extras you might look for in a car…and at the same price.

You have a budget of $ 30,000 to spend and you intend to spend all of it. Now, you could buy a nice serviceable nondescript vehicle. Four tires, four doors, good motor, nice, basic, serviceable transportation that will get you from point A to point B. Nothing special, nothing flashy but serviceable. By all outward indications it will perform as expected with very little trouble.

However, for the same $30,000 you can purchase the same good, basic transportation that will fill all your basic transportation needs…but it also has all the “extras” you wanted. There are the heated leather seats with memory adjustment, power everything, state of the art sound system, Bluetooth enabled, wifi hotspot, dvd player with front and rear screens, climate control, moon roof and all the other goodies that make things fun to drive. So now you have good solid, reliable transportation with all the “goodies” that will make your drive more enjoyable.

Which will you buy? Well, if you are like most of us there is no question which one you will take. You’ll take the upgrade for the same money.

This is the choice hiring managers make every day. When faced with a choice of two candidates, both reliable, both can do the job, but one has a little more to offer in the way of skill, knowledge, or abilities they will take the “upgraded model.” Your skills and qualifications can make you either nice “basic transportation” or the “up graded model”.

Understanding which “model” you are will help you to realistically understand your prospects at getting the job you are going after.  If you only meet the minimum qualifications of the job because you have not updated your skills you may be overlooked. If you do not have a good understanding of what skills you do posses so that you can speak convincingly (sell them) as to how they relate to the qualifications being looked for in the job, you are like the “basic model”. You are good, dependable, reliable transportation, but you have none of the qualities that would make someone take notice and choose you over that individual with the “extras” the degree, the upgraded skills, the certifications, the great positive attitude. You may make a fine employee, better perhaps than any other candidate but how will you or anyone else know if you do not have the right attributes to catch the eye of the hiring manager.

Rather than discourage you, I would hope that this would inform you and encourage you. The hiring manager wants to get the most and best for their money. Your job it to assess your skills, knowledge, and abilities and make sure they align with what the job wants and your competition may have.

Skills and Experience Are Not Enough

When people come to me for career development one thing that I find that they have often overlooked, to their peril I might add, is to understand that experience and skills are not enough. Do not mistake what I am saying, you must have skills, you must have them in abundance, in order to be competitive and they must be up to date. Also, every employer is looking for some level of experience and usually the more the better. But skills and experience alone will not land you the job. That news often comes as a surprise to people, especially individuals that are highly skilled with years of experience in their chosen fields.

These clients usually have a story of at least one time (usually several) where they did were passed over for a promotion or lost a job opportunity to individuals they “knew” or at least perceived as less skilled or experienced than themselves. What they failed to realize was that “the race is not always to the swift nor victory to the strong”. These individuals have failed to take stock of what employers are looking for when they hire and promote individuals.

The experienced hiring manager, when looking for someone to add to their team, is looking for more than skills and experience.  They are looking for the best possible match for their team or department. The problem with that is that it is a very subjective judgment that must be made.

Hiring managers, the wise ones anyway, are looking for the well rounded individuals not one sided individuals. They are looking for skills yes, a degree of experience yes, but also individuals with at least three other traits. They are looking for someone who is teachable, manageable, and with a great positive attitude.

Teachable means that you are accepting of and willing to learn new ways and methods of doing things. You realize that despite your great knowledge and skills you still have things to learn. You must be open to laying aside your ways and methods in favor of others. You must be willing to try and explore new things. This means that you embrace or are at least open to the possibility of change.

Manageable means that you can accept direction and will follow instruction willingly and often without questioning the reasons or authority of your manager. It also means that you “keep your nose clean” and don’t participate in the “office dramas” that can be divisive to your workgroup or team.  To convincingly portray this skill is no small feat for individuals who believe that their skills and knowledge are superior to their team members and/or their manager or to those individuals that feel they have something to say on most every issue and feel some inner compulsion to have to share it. In short being manageable means you exhibit a degree of humility and won’t be a pain in the ass to your team or manager.

A Positive Attitude that projects a “can do” feeling is what that managers know will add to their team and can be infectious when supported and rewarded. Managers don’t like, want or need negativity on their team and will avoid individuals they perceive as potentially negative risks. Just as a positive attitude can be infectious, it is doubly true that an individual with a “bad attitude” can bring a team down and potentially destroy it. A smiling, easygoing persona helps to project a positive attitude. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be lollipops and sunshine all the time with you. What it does call for is a good degree of emotional intelligence so that you can self-manage your moods so that they don’t negatively impact your team or manager.

Whether prepping for an interview or managing your current career the ability to project the qualities of being teachable, manageability, and having a positive attitude will serve you well in your career.

Lessons on Reflection: Go to your room and think about what you have done.

Our earliest lessons in learning how to reflect upon ourselves and the things we do often came accompanied by the words …”Go to your room and think about what you have done!”

As a child you may have been sent to your room or made to “sit in the corner” to think about what you did to get you is such a sad position, so usually you were in trouble. While in your room, feeling isolated from all human contact and alone with your thoughts you were supposed to think about what you did, feel sorry for your actions and their consequences, apologize for what you did, make amends for what you did if possible, and promise never to do it again. Or at least that’s what you parents wanted you to do.

As much as we hated being sent to our rooms it was our earliest training on learning the importance of reflection about ourselves and our actions. These early efforts by the authority figures in our lives to get us to reflect actually laid the foundation and served to teach us the value of pausing to consider, ponder, question, think and reflect all in a critical way about our issues, problems, success, failures, and plans … our lives. Unfortunately, since this learning was not taking place under pleasant circumstances. So if we participated in the process at all we did it grudgingly, but usually we feigned the response that was expected of us to get out of the circumstances we found ourselves in. This was also an early form of enlightened self interest … so that we could get back to our agenda, whatever we were doing before we were interrupted by this unreasonable demand to “think about what you have done”. Those demands placed upon us may be part of the reason so few people take the time to reflect and think about their lives, actions, and careers as adults. We don’t do it because it’s not easy, not fun, and we don’t see the benefit in doing it.

How does this relate to career development? In any part of life, but especially in career development efforts, critical reflection is an essential part of your development plan. After you draw up your plan and have begun the implementation and have worked the plan for a while you need to pause and take some time to reflect on what you are doing. You need to set aside time periodically and examine your plan, your progress in implementing it, and your overall effectiveness in making it work. The reason for this critical reflection is not only to check on your progress, to see how far you’ve got, but to also to tweak the plan and make any adjustments needed to enhance your development plan. You need to ask yourself questions like “What’s working?”, “What’s not working?”, “What do I need to do more of?”, “What do I need to do less of?”, “Do I have the resources I need to execute my plan?”, “Who do I need to network with to help further my goal?” “What are the implications if I take this action as opposed to that action?”. By asking these and other critically reflective questions you can sharpen your plan and continue to update your execution strategy. By exercising the disciple of critical reflection you can make your plans better and improve your chances for success.

In order to do this type of deep thinking and to be able to critically reflect upon your current state you need to get way from distractions of the day to day and concentrate, to focus on the task. A friend of mine refers to this as “going to the mountain top”. This simply means that you take the time to get away from the noise and distractions of your daily life so that you can concentrate on the task at hand. This may mean that you need to remove yourself physically from other people and distractions for an extended period of time so that you can be alone with your thoughts and think. If actually removing yourself for periods of time is not possible, it may mean that you purposely set aside time on a daily basis to reflect upon and examine your plans and progress, on what you have done and what you need to do. However you do it is not important. That you do it is imperative!

There is a certain discipline that is needed for this. As a child your parents brought pressure to bear in an attempt to force/ coerce/ make you think about what you had done. Now, as an adult, no one has the authority to pressure you or demand that you reflect on what you have done and how you do it. You have to demand it of yourself. And you do it because you realize it is in your own best interest to do so.

Employers want the basics from their employees

As I discuss the needs of the entry level workforce with employers and especially with hiring managers one theme keeps surfacing. Dependability. They need people who they define as dependable. When pressed to define “dependable” they end up defining it as a person who will show up, on time, every day, ready to work, and who can get along with others in the workplace. Sounds simple enough doesn’t? Seems as if most anyone who want to work could meet these few minimum requirements, but in many cases it isn’t that simple.
Let’s break it down:
Show Up: Go to work every day. Day in and day out. Week after week. Month after month. No last minute call offs. No excuses on why today just isn’t a good day to report for work. Even when you would rather not, show up.
On time: Show up every day when you are supposed to show up. Not 15 minutes later, not five minutes later. Get to work at the scheduled time, all the time, so you do not negatively impact the flow of business. Do what you must to order your life and activities so that they do not interfere with getting to work on time.
Every Day: Showing up on time most days, or 4 out of 5 or even 9 out of 10 days is not good enough. Consistency (read every day) is the key here, occasionally will not do. This is not horseshoes or hand grenades. Close don’t count. Most don’t count. Every day counts.
Ready for Work: Personal business handled. Rested and ready to meet the tasks for the day. Mind focused on the task at hand not on your love life, your recreations, or your troubles. We all have them and we must learn to put them aside at work. Engage your mind and focus on your job.
Get Along with Others: Show some emotional maturity and use emotional intelligence to handle the annoyances you will encounter. Be cooperative and flexible with the people (and customers) you must deal with not quick to take offense at thoughtless actions and comments. Put aside self centeredness and think in terms of what is good for your team members or employer and not just for you. Believe it or not it is not all about you.
These few basic requirements, along with some basic ability to perform the tasks of the job, are really all it takes to be successful in the workplace.
Employers state that they are willing to invest in people who meet this idea of “dependable”. They will train you for other positions, provide opportunities for advancement, and tend to keep you around if you meet their idea of dependable.
If you are entering the job market from school or trying to re-enter it after a period of unemployment you need to project dependability. You need to sell the hiring manger on your ability to meet these few simple criteria. Hiring managers are looking for it; they want to find it in you. Use your answers in the interview so that they see you as that dependable one they are looking for.