Archive for February, 2008

How to say “I don’t know” effectively

February 27, 2008

In a job interview, it’s crucial you don’t pretend to know things that you don’t, but you
don’t have to just say “no, I don’t know about that.” Here are three
responses that are better than “no”, in order of preference.

  1. Discuss something you’ve done similar. “I haven’t used LDAP, but
    back in 2006, when I was at Yoyodyne, I set up and administered
    Active Directory for a 2,500-person company.

  2. Show that you’re at least familiar with the name. “No, I haven’t.
    Are you doing some sort of enterprise-wide directory integration?”
    You’re showing that you have some understanding of how it’s used,
    and getting more information and it may turn out that you have a
    different, similar experience, and can turn this into Answer #1
    above.

  3. Ask what it is, and how it’s used. “I’m sorry, no, I haven’t even
    heard the term. What is LDAP, and how are you using it?” You’ll
    show interest in learning more, and may find out that it’s similar
    to something you’ve done before, and can upgrade your answer to
    Answer #2 above.

Please don’t use the clichéd answer “No, I don’t, but I’m a
quick learner!” It’s good to try to turn a negative into a positive, but
“I’m a quick learner” is meaningless because anyone can say it. Use one of
the three above.

Finally, don’t think of it as a pass/fail quiz and worry that you’re
doomed for not knowing. I once asked a candidate, out of the blue, if he
knew anything about LDAP, because I had been thinking about it as
something my department might use. I thought he was going to have a heart
attack as he stammered out his “Uh, uh, no, but, uh, I can learn pretty
quick!” I reassured him it wasn’t something we were using, but I was just
curious. Chances are if you’ve been called in for an interview, you’ve
already the core basic knowledge that truly is pass/fail.

Advertisements

The Career Manifesto

February 27, 2008

This brilliant list comes from http://www.execupundit.com/2006/12/career-manifesto.html.

  1. Unless you’re working in a coal mine, an emergency ward, or their equivalent, spare us the sad stories about your tough job. The biggest risk most of us face in the course of a day is a paper cut.
  2. Yes, your boss is an idiot at times. So what? (Do you think your associates sit around and marvel at your deep thoughts?) If you cannot give your boss basic loyalty, either report the weasel to the proper authorities or be gone.
  3. You are paid to take meaningful actions, not superficial ones. Don’t brag about that memo you sent out or how hard you work. Tell us what you achieved.
  4. Although your title may be the same, the job that you were hired to do three years ago is probably not the job you have now. When you are just coasting and not thinking several steps ahead of your responsibilities, you are in dinosaur territory and a meteor is coming.
  5. If you suspect that you’re working in a madhouse, you probably are. Even sociopaths have jobs. Don’t delude yourself by thinking you’ll change what the organization regards as a “turkey farm.” Flee.
  6. Your technical skills may impress the other geeks, but if you can’t get along with your co-workers, you’re a litigation breeder. Don’t be surprised if management regards you as an expensive risk.
  7. If you have a problem with co-workers, have the guts to tell them, preferably in words of one syllable.
  8. Don’t believe what the organization says it does. Its practices are its real policies. Study what is rewarded and what is punished and you’ll have a better clue as to what’s going on.
  9. Don’t expect to be perfect. Focus on doing right instead of being right. It will simplify the world enormously.
  10. If you plan on showing them what you’re capable of only after you get promoted, you need to reverse your thinking.

My favorites are #6 and #9. I’m devoting a chapter in my upcoming book to the ideas hidden within #6, which technical people are notoriously bad with.

Give just the facts when job hunting

February 27, 2008

When faced with the daunting task of summarizing themselves, whether on paper in a resume or face-to-face in an interview, job hunters often fall into the trap of trying to encapsulate everything into a few simple, pithy phrases. I’ve seen these chestnuts far too often:

  • I’m a hard worker
  • I have a strong work ethic
  • I’m reliable
  • I’m a good listener
  • I work well with others
  • I take pride in my work

The hiring manager’s mental response, assuming his eyes haven’t glazed over, is likely to be “You and everyone else, pal.” Is there anyone out there who would not feel justified in using all of the assessments above to describe themselves? (I certainly hope that you wouldn’t be foolish enough to vocalize it if not.)

The next response to such vague summations is “According to whom?” A “hard worker” at a big faceless corporation or a government 9-5 job may be very different from a “hard worker” at a startup, or at a video game company. (And whatever you do, don’t put down that you “try to work smarter, not harder”, which is as trite as they come.)

What to do instead? Provide facts and stories, not judgments, when telling someone about yourself and your work history.

Back on the old radio and TV show Dragnet, Sergeant Joe Friday would question witnesses about a crime that had been committed. If she strayed into personal opinion about a suspect, he’d steer her back with “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” Imagine you’ve got Joe Friday reading your resume.

Instead of “I’m a hard worker,” give details of projects you’ve completed. Include points that make clear you were a hard worker, without you having to say “I worked hard.” For example, you might say:

I recently completed a five month, 50,000-line conversion project. Even though we we lost one of the four team members with only three weeks left, we pulled together to make the deadline.

You’ve described a big project, hard work, and made no self-assessments.

Got a strong work ethic? Explain it: “A few weeks ago, my team rolled out an upgrade to Office in our 300-seat location. We did it over the weekend to minimize work disruption. Sunday night we had to order in some pizzas, but Monday morning everyone was able to come in and get work at 8am sharp.”

Every manager wants reliable employees: “My projects are consistently done on time, never more than 10% over budget. Here are the planned vs. actual charts for the last three projects I worked on.” Then you can show the actual work products from your portfolio. “Plus, I’ve only had unscheduled absences twice in the past four years.”

Good listening is great, too: “I find that I’m able to help my team with listening carefully. The other day, we had a meeting and one of our developers and the guy from accounting were having quite a disagreement. As I listened to their arguing, I saw that they were agreeing, but didn’t even realize it. I gently interjected some restatements of what each of them was saying, and they came to see that their differences were very minor.”

Working well with others is a hoary clich&eacute, but critical in all but a few jobs: “As a web page designer, I usually work with three or four different teams throughout the week. They’re all very different in their makeup, but I work hard at fitting in with each as necessary. Ted in Marketing even sent me this gracious thank-you note for my work, which I was very proud of.” You can then open your portfolio to the printed copy of the email to show the interviewer.

When it comes to the pride you take in your work, you need not explain at all. Your resume and interview should be enough. The pride you take in yourself and your accomplishments must shine through without additional words being necessary.

Note that all these examples use recent examples, and not stories from years past. They emphasize teamwork and other people, which every manager should have high on her list. And they document facts that let the interviewer draw her own conclusion about you and your value to her company.

The examples above are taken from an interview setting, but they apply to any printed work as well. You’ll have less room to stretch out verbally, but you can certainly replace your “Reliable worker” bullet point with “Projects mostly completed on time, never more than 10% over estimates.”

Right now, I challenge you to take a look at your basic resume and scrutinize every sentence. If a claim is vague, replace it with a concrete example, or remove it entirely. If something applies to everyone, then it means nothing.

The worst reason to quit your job

February 19, 2008

When you’re in a job that makes you unhappy, it can be easy to start thinking about making a move elsewhere. Maybe the work’s not as fun any more, or you’re not advancing when you should be. While there are plenty of good reasons to leave, there’s one that shouldn’t enter your mind: Not liking the people you work with, even if it’s your boss.


It doesn’t seem like something you’re likely to be able to get past. You deal with them every day. But don’t think that you can go to a new job that will be jerk-free.


The jerks of the world follow you around. Remember how there were people in school you didn’t like? And then in college there were people just like them? And then your first job, you get a new set of people, most of whom you like, but some are jerks, too? They are everywhere.


What’s more, they move around. You can be in a perfectly swell department, with a great boss and great co-workers, and blammo! In comes some socially stunted goober who screws it all up. Or who can’t code his way out of a paper sack. Or maybe your boss decides to take off and gets replaced by some micromanager who calls you “Pal”.


You might think a bad boss is a bigger deal than a bad co-worker, and it is to a degree. When a boss is bad, it has bigger effects on you than just an incompetent co-worker in the next cube, so that much is the case. When you dig deeper, though, it’s more an issue of the company and company culture than about any individual person.


Imagine working at the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin (on the US version of the TV show “The Office”). It’s not that so much that Michael Scott is a terrible boss, but that he’s allowed to keep his job in the face of his egregrious shortcomings. Michael has problems, but the company doesn’t care, or doesn’t seem to care. You take pride in your work, but why doesn’t the company show the same pride?


The distinction between the bad co-workers and the company that allows them to work is an important one. The bad co-worker or bad boss may go away over time, but the company is a larger problem that may be well entrenched. Before you make for the door, make sure you know what the problem actually is. If it’s just a person or two that rub you wrong, you’re probably better off to live with it for a while until things change.