Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Should I Tell the Truth?

After a couple of months of discussion with one of my publishers (Cyan Books), I've managed to land another book deal, which brings my total up to 15, I think.

The original discussion the publisher and I had was to write a book entitled FAQs on Job Hunting. They already have a series of books called 'FAQs on...'

I like the idea of writing a book in a question and answer format as I think the style will be more like a conversation between the reader asking questions and me answering them.

But then Martin Liu, the publisher and all-around smart guy, suggested that we retitle the book Should I Tell the Truth? with a subtitle And 99 Other Questions about Job Hunting.

Which I think is a cracking title.

Anyway, we've just inked the deal and my deadline is mid-May 2007.

But I'm going to be gathering questions over the next month or two so I can start writing the book. So if anyone has any burning questions they would like answered about anything to do with the job hunting process, let me know and it may make it into the book!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Job interviews: 'What are you most proud of?'

Interviewers often ask this question of job candidates. The trap here for unwary candidates is to gush about their family or accomplishments outside of work.

I've interviewed candidates who have talked about how proud they were to have given up smoking or lost weight or brought up a child successfully. But while those are notable achievements, talking about those kinds of non-work achievements is losing an opportunity to really impress the interviewers.

Remember that interviewers are most interested about your suitability for the job. So make sure that, if you are asked this question, you talk about a work achievement that you are most proud of.

The best kinds of achievements focus on benefits that you achieved for other people such as:

  • Increased customer or client satisfaction;
  • Greater revenues or profit;
  • Cost reduction;
  • Reducing the workload for a colleague;
  • Improving a process.
Another favourite question of interviewers is often: 'What are your three biggest achievements?' So make sure in your interview preparation that you rack your brains to come up with at least 3 or 4 different achievements so that you don't get stuck on the spot with nothing to say.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Dr Rob, business psychologist

I used to work for a big firm called The Boston Consulting Group. And occasionally they write features about alumni who used to work there and have since moved on to other things.

So a few months ago they did an interview with me, which has just come out. Of course it's been written by the journalist to make me (and therefore, by association, the consulting firm I used to work for) sound pretty glowing. There are a few minor errors in the piece, but nothing substantively incorrect. Anyway, if you can be bothered with that kind of thing, here's the full text of what they wrote about me!

Bringing Psychology to Businesses

Rob Yeung Finds Success in the Corporate World, Books, and TV

Rob Yeung, a trained psychologist, usually has a pretty interesting day at work. One day he might be assessing executive candidates for a corporate client. The next day, he might be writing an article on the role psychological analysis can play in selecting job candidates. Or he might be working on his latest book, which will be his fourteenth.

Oh, and he’s also a budding television personality in his native England. Rob gained national exposure hosting the BBC program How to Get Your Dream Job/Who Would Hire You?, on which he helped seemingly hapless job seekers hone their interview skills. He recently began work on a new show, which he described as being similar to Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. On the new program, he will help a well-known business figure avoid pitfalls as she attempts to make an important hire.

“I’m basically trying to cut through the nonsense and show that there are certain skills you need to be looking for in a candidate,” Rob said. “It’s good fun. There’s definitely a lot of variety in my work.”

Before entering the business and entertainment worlds, Rob worked for six years as a sports and exercise psychologist. He wanted to set up his own business but had no formal business training and wanted to understand how to operate a successful organization. That’s when he joined BCG, working out of the London office.

“I figured there was no better way to learn about business than by working for a strategic management-consulting firm,” Rob said.

Rob said his time at BCG gave him real insight into how executives make decisions. He also realized that the human aspect of running a business is often not given the attention it deserves. Although an organization may say that its people are its most important asset, there is still an undeniable pattern of jobs being outsourced and staff being reduced.

He also saw that there is more to change than just devising new structures and processes.

“Sometimes people won’t do something, even if it’s the right thing to do, because they just don’t want to,” Rob said. “I really thought I could tackle some of the more human sides of change as well.”

That’s the approach Rob takes at his agency Talentspace, which helps companies take job interviews to the next level and also works with businesses to maximize the performance of current executives. Whereas a traditional job interview focuses on professional qualifications and past experiences, Talentspace tries to look beyond the resumé and find out how someone will really perform in the position being filled.

“These companies typically pay an executive search firm to bring in four candidates. Generally they’re all qualified, and they’ve all been running similar businesses,” Rob said. “But all a track record proves is that they were successful in their past role, in that particular organization with its own structure, rules, and culture. Once you take them out of that environment, they might fail because they can’t grasp how things are done in the new organization.

“I try to get businesses to separate track record and qualifications from personality, behavior, and temperament. I want to discover what psychologists call the dark side’ of people’s behavior.”

Rob said research has shown that one of the best predictors of how someone will behave is personality type—that is, whether someone has characteristics such as introversion, extroversion, curiosity, or risk-aversion. By looking at these traits, Talentspace is able to delve beneath the person’s “bright side,” which is the façade he or she generally puts up during a job interview.

“You can actually look for some of these qualities and measure them through psychometric testing,” Rob said. “Businesses usually interview and offer a job to the bright side,’ but the person who actually shows up for the job is the dark side’ of the personality. That’s what happens when you become more familiar with people and can’t fake it anymore.

“When you meet someone for the first time and ask what kind of a leader he or she is, that person is usually telling you what you want to hear. When I spend a day assessing someone, I get a clearer picture of how that person will really act on the job.”

Talentspace will even go so far as to set up customized assessment centers for clients. For example, if a retail bank is looking for a country manager, Talentspace will build a module that simulates the specific, complex demands of that position and put candidates through it over the course of one to three days.

The firm will typically present candidates with balance sheets and other data and look for business recommendations. And often, when a candidate is in the middle of creating a business plan, Talentspace will change the priorities by interrupting the process with a meeting or a customer issue that takes precedence. The goal is to put the candidate in situations he or she might face in a normal day as a country manager.

“We use actors and assessors to simulate very specific challenges,” Rob said. “We make it very complex, and we might give them a computer and bombard them with information. Rather than just asking someone about these scenarios in an interview, we’re trying to see how the person would actually behave in these situations.”

Creating these types of simulations—complete with financial forecasts and balance sheets—is another area in which Rob’s BCG experience has helped him.

“These simulations require business skills that I never would have picked up if I hadn’t worked at BCG,” he said.

Rob’s experience in both psychology and business gained him some opportunities to conduct educational seminars, which in turn led to his writing books on subjects such as teamwork, interviewing, coaching, and networking.

That exposure made him a prime candidate to appear on television as an expert when the BBC decided to create a program about helping people find jobs. Rob said it was particularly fun to help people understand what an employer is looking for, especially since it’s not always about technical skills, but rather softer skills such as relationship building.

And just about everyone can relate to the pressure that comes with a job interview, so the show caught people’s interest.

“Everyone realizes that things can go terribly wrong in a job interview,” Rob said. “After some interviews, you know they’ve been fantastic. But with others, you come out of there regretting something you said or wishing you had said something else. Interviewing for jobs brings out people’s biggest fears, too, and the biggest challenge is to help people when they’re resistant to your methods. If they don’t buy into your methods, you won’t get very far with them at all.”

But as his successful business, prolific publishing record, and television fame prove, Rob has gotten plenty of people to trust his methods.

“A lot of psychologists come from a clinical background, and they don’t have that business acumen and don’t understand the pressures that a business might be facing,” Rob said. “In business, it’s not about making people feel happy. It’s about total shareholder return—the bottom line. I recognize that, and I think that’s what distinguishes me from other psychologists.”

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ace competency-based interviews

Competency-based interviewing is a particular style of interviewing based on real examples of work behaviour.

Increasingly, all sorts of organisations in both the private and public sectors are moving towards competency-based interviewing, which is basically a style of interrogation that requires candidates to talk about actual situations they have experienced as opposed to hypothetical situations they have yet to encounter. There’s good business school and employer research showing that past behaviour is one of the best predictors of career success. So an interviewer might ask: “Can you tell me about a time when you had to…?” rather than “Can you tell me how you would…?”

I've blogged in the past about competency-based interviewing - but I wrote about it from the perspective of the employer. But recently a careers website approached me to write about it from the candidate's perspective - giving candidates advice on how to ace competency-based interviews.

Essentially, you need to bear in mind the STAR acronym, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Start by explaining only briefly the situation – perhaps the problem or opportunity you were faced with – and then move on to the task at hand.

But interviewers don’t give brownie points for setting the scene – it’s the actions you took that they are interested in. To finish, you should ideally have at your finger tips the quantifiable result that you achieved – a 3.4% increase in market share, a 17.5% ROI, a reduction in delivery times of 5 days.

Anyway, if you'd like to read more about how to deal with this style of interviewing, you can read about it on the site (or just click the icon right here).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The show must go on

I had an email from a contact who said that the TV programme I was a panel member on (Jade's PA) may get resurrected in the coming year - although with a new celebrity. Of course it would have to be a celebrity who is known to UK audiences, but any seriously A List celebrities aren't going to want to get involved with a programme for a relatively minor cable channel like Living TV here in the UK. Unfortunately, the producers are looking to run the show somewhere more glamorous like Los Angeles. And so I probably won't get to get involved!

And while I'm on the topic of poor Jade, she seems to be having a terrible time of things at the moment. Apparently, as a result of some of her actions and what she's been saying in the current series of Celebrity Big Brother, she has been dropped as a spokesperson for the anti-bullying charity she used to represent! Poor girl.

I don't think she is an intentional bully. When I worked with her, the impression I got was that she's just a headstrong girl who speaks her mind. She doesn't intend to cause distress (but can, and does). And I guess that one of the problems with bullying is that many (or perhaps even most) bullies do not bully intentionally - they simply lack self-awareness about how hurtful their comments and actions can be. Perhaps there's a small lesson there for dear Jade?

Monday, January 15, 2007

How to find a good coach

Both life coaching and work-based coaching are growing fields. More and more people are turning to coaches and, unsurprisingly, more and more people are turning into coaches to make money out of this trend.
There are some bad coaches out there. But there are also some good ones - like me, of course.

No, but seriously, this isn't a hard sell. I thought I'd list some of the questions you should ask yourself if you are looking for a coach to help you, whatever your issues, and wherever you are in the world:

  • Do you feel comfortable with the person? You can't engage fully in coaching if you feel intimidated or nervous around your coach. You should feel relaxed enough to talk about your vulnerabilities, perhaps mistakes you have made, and difficult decisions you need to make.
  • Are you confident in his or her abilities and skill level? Ask them to tell you briefly about other people they have coached in similar circumstances. Get an idea of their qualifications (and then go look those qualifications up - there are all sorts of diplomas and certificates in coaching that practically anyone can get by a short correspondence course!)
  • Do you trust that this person has your best interests at heart? An unscrupulous coach may try to string the coaching process out to make more money from you. A good coach should try to empower you and help you become self-sufficient as quickly as possible.
  • Do you feel both challenged and supported by this person? A coach is not there merely to offer sympathy. They might occasionally need to ask you tough questions that make you think about your motivations and issues. But, at the same time, they should push you only so far as you want to be pushed. You must ultimately drive the pace of coaching rather than your coach.
Even as little as five years ago, coaching was seen more as a luxury afforded only by senior managers. Increasingly, people across the board are seeking professional coaching for all manner of issues. Make sure you find a coach who is just right for you.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Urgent or important?

Everyone seems so 'busy' these days. People rush around from task to task to task to task without stopping.

Everyone is so pulled by the telephone, email, a Blackberry, a mobile, a pager. We are accessible by our colleagues and clients pretty much 24/7 if we choose to be. But therein lies the problem. Accessibility means that we get diverted by a cult of false urgency. We get pulled into tackling problems and situations that are urgent rather than important.

I wrote this advice up in my next book, The Rules of Entrepreneurship, but I think it's advice that can apply to all of us - whatever we are doing in our lives, both inside and outside of work.

Since you don’t want to be one of those people who rushes around being busy but achieving no results, consider the difference between hard work and smart work, between activity and productivity.

Long hours are wasteful if you are not doing the right work. So focus on the appropriate priorities all of the time, every week, every minute. No matter how many hours you are willing to work, time is still finite. Make comprehensive lists of everything you need to do. Then choose the tasks that simply have to be done. At the start of a week, ask yourself: “What is the most valuable work I should be doing?” At the start of every day, ask yourself the same question: “What is the most valuable work I must do today?”

It's that vital difference between urgency and importance. Say a potential customer and a potential supplier both send you emails to say that they must speak to you urgently. Both seem urgent. But which one is important? Responding to which one will make the bigger difference to your business? I’d probably go for the customer.

Stop yourself to think every time any new task interrupts what you are doing. Ask yourself whether it is truly important or merely urgent. Importance should trump urgency every time. Don’t allow yourself to be pushed in the wrong directions by tasks that are urgent but not important.

It sounds easy in theory but is darned difficult in practice. I don't always practise what I preach. Plus, it's easy to procrastinate because you don't want to do those important tasks - so you let yourself be dragged off course by the merely urgent ones. But, if you can manage to separate urgency from importance, I guarantee you that you will make your life a helluva lot easier.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

More goals

As a rejoinder to yesterday's post on the topic of setting goals (and writing them down), a reader emailed me and told me what he does.

He types his goals in the form of an email and sends them to himself. He finds that simply confirming his goals in a form that can then sit in his inbox is a great way to make his commitments to himself feel more real and significant.

I liked that idea so I thought I'd share it. I know of other people who have actually written letters, put a stamp on an envelope, and posted them to themselves too.

Oh, and on the topic of communication, there is an email address you can use to reach me on - it's towards the bottom right hand of this blog - just in case you want to ask a question, make a suggestion, or pass on your thoughts but without leaving them on the blog for all to see.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year, new you?

Do you have a new year's resolution? Lots of people do.

Maybe you have goals at work - to work harder or find a new job or get that promotion or sort out someone who's causing you difficulties. Maybe you have personal goals - to lose weight or give up smoking or exercise more or drink less.

I'm a big fan of setting goals. Unfortunately, the vast majority of of people who set themselves resolutions or goals won't see them through.

There's good research to show that writing your goals down helps to crystallise them - to turn something that is otherwise merely just a dream or wish into something a little more concrete. I write my own goals down - so I practise what I preach.

So, whatever your goals, I hope you achieve them. But do yourself a favour and help yourself to succeed. Write your goals down. You don't need to share them with anyone - perhaps write them in your personal journal or on a piece of paper in your bedside cabinet or desk drawer. Put them somewhere where you can be reminded of them occasionally. And you will be more likely to achieve them.

Oh, and Happy New Year!