Finding Your ‘Culture Fit’ During the Job Search

Job fit isn’t the only thing you should focus on during the job search. Even if the job sounds right, knowing a company’s culture can help you determine if an opportunity is truly right for you.

What does culture fit mean and how can you identify it during your application and interview process? Learn more in my recent blog found on VentureFizz. Click here!

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Asking Questions During the Interview Process

Interviewing is never easy no matter how skilled or comfortable you are when it comes to selling yourself.  Preparation prior to the interview can be involved and the amount of interviews within an interview loop can be demanding. The agonizing waiting period between the final interview and offer can be stressful. But, throughout the whole process, many job seekers are more focused on impressing the interviewer and landing that offer, causing them to forget that the interview is mutually beneficial for them, as well. This process is a prime time for a job seeker to investigate the company by asking deep questions to as many interviewers as possible. This can ensure that the company is worth the effort.

When I was in talent acquisition, I’d often ask my candidates if they had any questions at the end of the interview. A good portion of the time, candidates didn’t have any. Or if they did, they were often very basic. The questions typically covered things like pay, expectations, management style and so on. Many of those questions could have been answered by simply reviewing the job description or doing research on the company. In the end, the responses didn’t clearly show a candidate why this is a good employer for them for the long-term. Knowing salary details and day-to-day duties are important, but it doesn’t get to the core regarding what else the candidate would face if they accepted an offer. More importantly, the answers could easily be a canned, elevator-speech that gives no deeper insight. When all is said and done, a candidate may accept a job only to realize that there are a ton of deal breakers that they missed.

Whenever I’m interviewing somewhere, I like to take the time to ask each interviewer unique questions. It’s a fantastic way to learn about their experiences and the variations between them, allowing you to get a fuller picture of the company. It doesn’t necessarily have to be job-specific; the questions can have a range between job details, company culture, values, general experiences/examples and so on. The important thing is not to just listen to the responses, but also to take notice of their reactions when answering. Does their face light up? Do they seem cautious and guarded? Is it a genuine answer or does it seem practiced and calculated? These things can help you see which responses are more honest and which ones seem suspiciously reserved.

Some questions might include:

  • What was a defining moment at the company that made you say, “This is why I’m here”?
  • Do you have an example of a situation internally or with a client that resonated with you?
  • What makes you proud to work here?
  • What is the dynamic of the team you work with? How do they function during good times? More importantly, how do they work together during the bad?
  • What makes your experience with this employer different from previous ones? What makes you stay?
  • What is one project that you could work on at the company, whether you believe it would be implemented or not?

Hearing their stories is a great way for a candidate to envision themselves at the company. Even if all of the responses are positive, some of the answers might shed light on things that a candidate does or does not want to face at their workplace. These things should be considered heavily along with the traditional aspects such as compensation, benefits, perks, culture, employee value proposition, job, department, managers and the like.  When an individual spends a significant time at work, it’s best to identify whether it is a right fit or not.

2014 at a Glance

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Wow. We’ve made it through another whole year and it seems like they’re flying by faster and faster. As I take a moment to reflect on my personal and professional highlights of 2014, I’m reminded of how much can change in a year. It’s a nice reminder of what can be accomplished, but also that there is still so much more to do.

From a personal standpoint, I moved from Charleston, SC, to Boston, MA. After over a decade of dreaming about travel, I finally took my first European trip to Paris and Rome. I took the leap and became a puppy parent. And I made plans to finally tie the knot with my long-term fiancé in 2015.

From a professional perspective, I continued to build my strategic skills for the talent acquisition space, specifically in recruitment planning and employment branding. I finally had an opportunity to attend a human capital conference, which I absolutely loved. I was even able to meet professional contacts I connected with via social media over the years. Currently, I’m in the process of switching my employer/career, but that will come in due time.

As for blogging, here are the most viewed blogs posted in 2014:

 

Overall, I was both surprised and happy to see that my top post of all time was one of the first ones I wrote on this blog back in 2012: Basic requirements: A candidate’s search for a qualified employer. Since writing this post, my professional career has changed so much. I’ve learned more than I could imagine, gained so many new skills and really saw my potential. I was challenged often and always found a way to rise to the occasion, no matter how impossible it may have seemed.

As I restart my job search in 2015 and finally have a moment to reflect, I reviewed this specific blog post from 2012 and realized that even years later, the things I want from an employer still ring true today. I’ve had a great opportunity to work for a company that hit most of these points for the last 2+ years, letting me know that these companies really do exist. I’m hopeful and looking forward to seeing what 2015 has in store for me.

Happy New Year!

Rediscovering Your Identity

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Identity is a funny thing. We spend our time trying to distinguish it, both personally and professionally, and then spend our lives trying to build and protect it once we know what it is. Our experiences and surroundings transform it. We go through cycles of trying to fit in, to making sense of who we are. Other times we are trying to stand out and become indispensable. And when we find a place where our identity makes sense, we get comfortable with the easy flow of knowing who we are and where we fit. But what happens when that comfortable place is gone?

It’s been a while since I’ve written last, mainly because I’ve been going through a transition that has tested my feelings towards my identity. In 2012, I developed my personal brand without even realizing it. I started this blog, joined online discussions, participated in Twitter chats, guest blogged, networked and so on. I was sharing my knowledge about HR, talent acquisition and business. And with each conversation, research and experience, my knowledge continued to grow to the point where I was able to provide valuable insight and suggestions. From the people I networked with, to the company I worked for and the clients I supported, I was able to make an impact. I started to work harder, I tied my name and experiences with my professional work and I truly believed I was going to build my career with that one company for at least five years, if not more. I was set… until I wasn’t.

A move to Boston from South Carolina made it difficult to keep up with the cost-of-living increase. I struggled but I tried hard to make it work. After all, I had built a reputation internally and externally. People from all levels, interns to c-level, came to me for brainstorming, mentorship or suggestions. My personal brand had seemed to merge into my company brand.  I excelled because my company was able to give me the things I needed to move forward that I couldn’t get myself. So, naturally, I wanted to be loyal and give back. We were a unit—an equal balance of give and take.

When it came to the point when I had to regretfully move on, I dealt with the loss. I fell silent; on social media, with those I networked with and with blogging. I had become so ingrained in the company and what I was doing there, that I truly believed that without my employment, all the things I’ve done over the last 2+ years was suddenly lost. As if with the end of that employment came the end of my worth and my ability to be impactful and valuable. It had been the first time I had felt so loyal and deeply connected to a company, that I wasn’t sure how to accept that I was now an outsider. I was no longer able to voice suggestions, develop strategies, author something or get recognition for a job well done. I was floating along without a home, without a purpose.

As I stated in my last blog, sometimes you just need time to handle the changes in life. You can be sad, in shock, in disbelief or even happy. Whatever you feel, it’s important you face it head on as soon as possible so you can start to make a plan for your next step. Over the last few weeks, that’s exactly what I did. I dealt with the sense of feeling orphaned and questioned who I was as a professional. Would my opinions matter without the backing of an organization? Or would I just be a random person who’s “faking it until I make it” and in which everyone can see right through?

But then I remembered something.

I built my personal brand before this company found me. My blog, my conversations and my interactions on social media were mine. Even while employed there, my thoughts were still my thoughts. Some of the ideas we implemented came out of my head based on what I knew or researched and my ability to make sense of it. Sure, my work at the company did help me learn more and helped me develop my professional skills because of hands-on experiences. But my capability to absorb that and develop it into something useful was because of what I knew on my own.

My identity is still my identity as long as I’m still breathing and pursuing it. It didn’t come about as some Frankenstein experiment developed by a specific employer. No; it was a compilation of several experiences and the way I processed it. My identity won’t change unless I change it myself, no matter if I’m employed by one employer for the rest of my life, work for myself or become a freelancer. This identity comes with me.

And with that notion, I began to feel better about the change. Maybe I haven’t found my “home” yet, but I no longer feel like I’m a wanderer that doesn’t belong. This is all about growing up and the sooner I get used to it, the better I’ll be at bouncing back without missing a beat.

I know well enough that I’m not the only one who has experienced this situation when going through a transition, voluntary or not. Letting go, moving on and getting used to a new chapter in your life (personally and professionally) is not always easy. An important reminder is to know that no matter what happens; you don’t lose yourself or what you’ve accomplished when something comes to an end. In fact, it’s just another addition to help shape your transformational identity.

 

How Working at a Startup Could be Good for Your Career

While in college and early in my career, it was beat into my head that startups were not a viable choice as an employer. My peers and I were taught that startups were unstable and hard work. We were told that they couldn’t offer the desirable things that big corporations could, such as career growth, benefits and a retirement fund. But as years went by and people within my social circles matured, I’m now suddenly surrounded by individuals who have/are creating startups, work for one or have a desire to work for one. And by learning from them and comparing corporate experience against startups, I’m starting to wonder if we were all taught wrong.

Yes, startups are hard work. As some have told me, there are a lot of challenges when it comes to working at a startup. There are times where one day things are going great and then the next day you could be out of a job. Long days and late nights are common. Also, let’s not forget the anxiety of the daily uncertainty that comes with working at a startup. However, despite all of it, these individuals still prefer that environment over a corporate one… and for good reason.

Startups can be a great experience for recent grads and young professionals who are still developing themselves. Even if you have 5+ years of experience working in an established company, an experience with a startup might not be a bad thing to consider. In fact, the experiences one would face at a startup might be the very things that help you progress in your career faster than in a traditional setting. Here’s why:

  • You learn to be resourceful and independent: Unlike in established organizations, things in a startup aren’t neatly mapped out for you with standard operating procedures and extensive training. Additionally, you may not have experienced professionals to turn to if you have a problem or need help. Even though this might seem like a negative, it can actually be considered a positive because you’d have to learn how to be resourceful through research and self-education. Being independently resourceful, working closely with others and experiencing trial and error can boost your critical-thinking skills more than learning through traditional training. Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills are among the most desired skills by employers, even more so than actual job experience sometimes.
  • You’re exposed to new job functions: Because a startup is typically in a development, maintained or growth state, organizational structure might not be set in stone yet. Also, many job functions may not have been established yet due to lack of capital resources to put towards those full-time salaries. It’s not uncommon for people in a startup to wear multiple hats in order to keep the company afloat and progressive. Because of the blending of roles and the fact that multiple departments will work together, you could be exposed to new skills and knowledge. Diverse skills can help you become better-rounded and understand business on a deeper level. Also notable, it might boost your engagement because you aren’t strapped down to a monotonous job function. Consistently being challenged is very important when developing yourself professionally.
  • You learn a sense of accountability and loyalty: Since startups are generally small or mid-sized, there tends to be a level of transparency in the organization. Not just about the company details but also how your contributions make an immediate impact. Some of the laxed atmospheres of startups also allow people to voice opinions and suggestions and work to make them happen. Having a voice and seeing how your work directly impacts the business can create a sense of accountability and loyalty. Suddenly, you know exactly how you’re making a difference and that can be something to be proud of. You can see how you’re valued. In larger organizations, it might be a bit harder to get that feedback and see how you are helping the company. Also, some might feel like they can be easily replaced because the lack of transparency.
  • You have more control of measuring your results: Going off of accountability and seeing your personal impact, this can also help you measure your results better. Because you’re deeply involved in processes from start to finish, you can have better insight into measurable results. This can not only help you improve processes but also gives you a better look as to how you are progressing in your role. Having control over this and truly understand how it’s being measured may offer better feedback than a traditional performance review.
  • You can keep your integrity: For me, this one is a big one. We’ve all seen it in the news; major scandals in large corporations; employees being mistreated; leaders stealing from pensions; unethical business dealings… just to name a few. Competition can get the better of companies and suddenly they’re overpromising to secure business and end up under-delivering. Boosting bottom lines can mean compromising the moral fiber of the company and then these leaders expect their workers to support those skewed values. It’s a pretty terrible feeling to compromise your own integrity just because the company culture has shifted into something lacking basic values. With startups (at least good startups that haven’t been tainted), people still believe in the greater good. They’re working towards something that matters. Yes, making money and staying afloat matter but egos, pressure and cockiness seems to be less present.

Of course, the aforementioned isn’t true for every startup or every traditional organization. The key is to be sure to do your research. There are plenty of types of startups out there, from small to mid-sized, shipping to funded and more. It’s important to know what your basic needs are to support your livelihood and understand what qualities you respect in an employer. Knowing these things can help you find the right startup culture for you and hopefully that can help you build the skills you need for a stronger professional path.

Looking for a job at a startup? Check out StartupHire.

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LinkedIn Mistakes Job Seekers Make

LinkedIn Mistakes

As an active or passive job seeker, the job market can be a bit tricky. Even more so, job seeking can seem intimidating when a seeker is constantly reminded of all the things they need to do in order to stand out to a recruiter. One of the popular tools job seekers and recruiters now utilize is LinkedIn. Although this has been used for several years now, seekers who are new to the platform or haven’t used it often enough may not know the ins and outs of this social media platform, including the expected etiquette. As a recruiter, I’ve seen the painful misuse of this site which may or may not have cost candidates a job opportunity.

Yes, LinkedIn is a social media platform. Yes, it’s used to build networks and communicate. However, LinkedIn is NOT a lot of things. For example:

  • LinkedIn is not Match.com: this is by far the worst offense myself and other recruiters have experienced. LinkedIn is a site for professionals to network and shouldn’t be utilized as a primary source to find an intimate relationship or hook up. More importantly, these intentions (either sweet or inappropriately worded) should not be the first form of communication to a new connection. If you are a job seeker at a job fair, would you approach a recruiter at their booth/table and say the same things? No.
  • LinkedIn is not Facebook: LinkedIn is a fantastic way to share news, industry-related content or even promote your own content to build a personal brand. Plenty of professionals have used this well and I’ve found it to be a great source of information. However, there are a few people out there who use the “update status” section as a way to post useless information. Honestly, there are plenty of people who misuse the same feature on Facebook, but at least that site is a bit more casual in comparison to LinkedIn. If you’re a job seeker trying to get your name out there, do you think irrelevant or inappropriate posts are going to help you show prospective employers your worth?
  • LinkedIn is not Instagram: Of course, some professions are much more creative than others and LinkedIn can definitely be used to promote these portfolios. However, if you are in this type of profession or even if you’re not, there should be a limit to what you post. Much like the inappropriate dating emails or irrelevant status updates, images shared on LinkedIn should be reflective of how you’d want to present yourself to a recruiter or hiring manager. Nix the awkward selfies as your profile pictures. Try to avoid “oversharing” by posting pictures unrelated to what should be shared to your network.
  • LinkedIn is not Twitter: Twitter is a great way microblog, self-promote, network and just post a quick update. It’s not uncommon for people to post several times a day and with Twitter chats being a great way to virtually network, it’s not uncommon for people to post several times an hour. However, this elevated amount of posting should be kept exclusively to Twitter. LinkedIn’s newsfeed is already bombarded with an obscene amount of content. Limit your LinkedIn postings to a reasonable amount on a daily basis or weekly basis. You don’t want to annoy people with your over-posting to the point where they end up hiding your updates. This could seriously work against you if you ever do post any updates you want seen.

Of course, no one is perfect and there’s no perfect way to be a LinkedIn member. Even I’ve been an offender of some of these situations. Some people might like what you share, while others won’t. Some posts might work for certain professions while others don’t. The important thing is to do your homework, understand how this platform works and really research your “audience”. And always err on the side of caution. If you think your postings can work against you in your job hunt, then reconsider before you post.

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Employee Value Proposition: Building a Stronger Employer Brand from the Inside Out

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While I was in talent acquisition and HR roles, I was often involved in strategy development for candidate attraction and retention. I would help my team come up with creative ways to attract talent, which could be especially tricky depending on the type of candidates we were aiming for. Once I started in HR and recruitment marketing, I realized that these were also hot topics when it came to developing copy for employer branding initiatives. Regardless of the role I was in, I knew the importance of brand marketing, effective recruiter communications and reputation damage control. Although these are all exceptional ways to help a company become an employer of choice, I believed that companies missed a step in the process. Sure, employer branding is great but you can’t truly make it strong if you have nothing behind it. To be an employer of choice, you must start from the inside and develop your employee value proposition (EVP).

Having an employer brand isn’t going to be nearly as effective if your employee value proposition isn’t robust. Companies need to focus on developing this first before they can brand themselves in good conscious. If your previous or current employees were to give a testimonial, what do you think they would say? What about the candidates that already interviewed with your organization? With technology making it easier for people to find news and reviews about your company or social media allowing candidates to communicate with employees, companies need to realize that they can’t just “fake it until you make it.” People will see right through it.

To build or revamp your current EVP, consider the following:

  • Surveys: Give the people what they want! Getting candid feedback from your employees can help you understand what retains them, what things they value over others and what they’d like to see for future offerings. Also, get additional feedback from candidates. Learn more about what attracted them to your company to begin with and why or why not they decided to move forward with the interview process. Accumulating distinct details about attraction and retention can aid in the development of new offerings and nix the ones that make no impact.
  • Competitors: Look at direct competitors within your industry to see what you’re up against. If a candidate is interviewing at multiple organizations, having this competitor intelligence can make it easier to seal the deal and help make your organization present itself as a stronger choice.
  • Voluntary Turnover/Exit interviews: If an employee is leaving your company voluntarily, it’s in your best interest to find out why. Any information you gather from their exit interviews can be invaluable when it comes to knowing where your company is falling short. For example, did the employee leave because of the long commute? Incorporate telecommunication opportunities. Did they leave because lack of growth potential? Work with HR about career succession. Every exit interview can be an opportunity for improvement.
  • Forecasting and continuous revamping: The world is fast changing, which means the landscape of employment, candidates and offerings will change quickly too. Employers need to focus on correcting or revamping their EVP for the here and now and they also need to stay on the forefront of what employees or candidates could want in the future. Staying ahead of the curve can limit any risk and make your talent acquisition strategy proactive. Revamping the EVP can keep it fresh and engaging.
  • And, of course, branding: Once you get all the details of the EVP squared away, you then have a really strong backing to help with your employer branding initiatives. Your brand can speak to things you’ve already implemented and employees can give their testimonials to confirm that your company practices what it preaches. Showcasing your future initiatives and how you value employee and candidate opinions can make those researching your company more engaged and excited to see what’s to come.

Your brand has to start from the inside. Before you can catch up with the trend of building a brand, social media recruitment, video branding and candidate experience, you have to make your employee value proposition into something worth talking about.

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