Friday, September 27, 2019

The Supportive Communication Style Doesn’t Work in the Interview

Picture this...years ago, I am sitting around a long, rectangular maple table in a conference room. The walls are soft green. It is a soothing environment. Myself at the head of the table, four others are sitting around looking at me with intent expressions. Notepads and pens are directly in front of them. I can see a list of questions printed on sheets of paper with boxes for responses. It is Wednesday morning, 11:15 am, and the room is filled with sunlight pouring in from the small window on the back wall. In front of the window is an AV screen ready for the presentation that is expected after we finish talking. It’s an interview, and an important one.

The interview begins with the usual exchange of formalities. I listen intently to the others and try to learn about those at the table from their introductions. Job titles, voices tones, and expressions; I am tuned in to it all. From my immediate right comes the first question. She asked me about my qualifications and what makes me a good fit for the job? My response is calm, slow, and deliberate. I make sure I share my three greatest strengths and how they are a match for the job. I have practiced this response many times and use my natural supportive communication style to respond. This is the communication style that I have gravitated to all my life. And even more so in the last eight years while I have been an adult job education teacher. I deliver information, concepts, and approaches in the classroom to all walks and all education levels. I use my patience and relaxed attitude to help them grow and gain employment that they are excited about. This style comes through loud and clear as I speak to the interviews.

While I am delivering my strengths answer, I am still observing. I look for connections and social clues in this interviewer’s eyes and body language about how my response has landed. To my disappointment, it doesn’t have the impact I was hoping for. In fact, her response was rather neutral. “Thank you, Garla.” I am scratching my internal mind trying to figure out why she is not looking excited. My response was good! It turns out I am not speaking her communication style. My interviewer to the right is an initiating communicator. She had already shown me that she was outgoing and full of energy when she met me in the hallway to bring me in the interview room. She was talkative before the interview with all the interviewers. She appeared to be a natural communicator. She initiates conversations with others. These initiating communicators blossom with compliments and enthusiasm. Since she was the facilitator, I could have complimented her on the coordination of the interview process. I also should have been more upbeat and enthusiastic while presenting my strengths.

As the interview moves on, interviewers are now asking questions where they expect responses that are tied to behavior examples. In other words, they want P.A.R.s. They want me to deliver my responses in the form of what was the Problem, the Approach I used to solve the problem, and the Result.

The individuals sitting to my right in the second and third chairs are both interested in relationships that I have established with outside organizations and employment groups. They are interested in behavior examples. They ask the question, “This job requires creating opportunities that allow students to land jobs in these specific environments. Please tell us about your contacts and relationships in these areas.” I list a several organization names and people I know in these organizations while conveying the info in my supportive communication style to show that I am relaxed and confident enough to build the network and create the results they are seeking.
But rather than simply taking my answer, they prompt me with follow-up questions. How will you do it? Tell me more about this specific organization. Once again, my supportive communication style is not hitting home with these interviewers. They want more details, where I am trying to communicate a broad flexibility and easygoingness to work with any challenge. Their communication style is analytical. They are precise and want details. They are deliberate and specific in their follow up questions. They are leaders with technical backgrounds; trained to think critically and understand numbers, facts, processes, and strategy steps. They are not afraid to dive deep into a complicated problem. In fact, they need to dive in to understand. Their expressions communicate intensity. I fail here because I am not equipped to give them more. My supportive communication style needs to switch to analytical to show to how I built my network. What activities did I engage in to build the network? How long did it take me? What were the results? As a supportive communicator, I gravitate to listening (active listening) to ensure I don’t lose my audience. But these individuals do not see my brief elaboration as detailed enough. They need the details to hear me and communicate with me.

Now, remember there were four interviewers in the room. The most important interviewer is sitting near the far end of the table on the left. She is the big boss in the room. She is friendly but deliberate, and intense with her listening skills. I know who she is and her role on the team. She is responsible for setting the overall goals for the team and ensuring the group is able to navigate management’s demands. She needs to be direct and concise when engaging with the management team. When I asked for clarification to an earlier question, she was the one who summarized the question in a direct manner so that I understood what was being asked. Her interviewing question (which was very telling) was, “How do you handle pressure?” Those with direct communication styles tend to be competitive and resonate with competitive terms. Her role alone tells me a lot about her communication style. It is a direct communication style.

In response to her question, I deliver a P.A.R. that speaks to building a product while being required to complete it within a tight time frame. I speak on the challenges we faced while building the product, the people relations, parts assembly challenges, and I sum it up with saving the company time and money by avoiding late charges. A perfect P.A.R.! My supportive communication style lets me deliver the P.A.R. in a succinct and organized manner.

But I make two fatal mistakes. I repeat myself a couple of times. My supportive style is used to making a point two different ways to ensure all my listeners are understanding. But in this case, the delivery comes across as too many words, too much redundant information. My second mistake is that I don’t show my competitive nature in my response. A stronger answer might have been, “Despite one-third of our parts not fitting, I was determined to drive that number down to less than 5% by the time the product transitions by aggressively and ruthlessly working with engineers to get the tolerances tighter and drive our quality team to report and reject piece parts that were out of spec or closes.” She needed to hear my determination with minimal details to show I desired to win.

Perhaps you have anticipated, I did not get that job. But what I learned from this process is that communication styles needed to be altered depending on your audience. Within the interview setting, it is especially critical to understand your own communication style and the styles of those in the room. I believe the supportive communication style has little place in the interview process. It is an excellent communication style for the classroom and educational environment and even within leadership roles, but not here.

Consider the roles and backgrounds of individuals as you are crafting your interview responses. Being succinct and detailed about the delivery of your accomplishments, goals, strengths in styles that the interviewers can understand is critical. If your communication style is supportive know that in an interview setting, this style has to be adapted even further to come across as a well-rounded candidate who can get the job done. Supportive styles particularly tend to exhibit a gentleness which can be perceived as weakness. This is not what you want to communicate. You want to communicate that you are a winner.

With all of this analysis, keep in mind that you do have a default communication style. You are who you are. You must understand your natural style and then recognize how you come across to others. You must recognize how others see you in the room and then speak to each of those individuals. The goals is to communicate with them on their level. If you find yourself struggling to identify the styles of others or struggling to adapt your own style without seeming forced or phone, a career coach can help you strengthen these skills. As a job seeker interviewing, your delivery cannot be just based on you! Your interviewer must be able to hear what you have to say in their language.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Do You Need a Career Coach?

I am a career coach and have worked with individuals for over fourteen years in various capacities of recruiting, staffing, employability education, and encouragement/accountability (aka coaching). I meet a lot of individuals who need support, but a fair amount could take on the career strategy endeavor on their own. This blog entry is written to help you determine the following:

  1. Can you tackle reaching your career goals on your own?
  2. Do you possess the knowledge to make informed decisions related to career progression?
  3. Do you possess the skills or bandwidth to conduct regular self-reflection and self-direction?

Let’s first tackle the goals you are trying to reach. Are you considering a coach to help you understand yourself and the options that are in line with your interests, skills, personality, and values? Keep in mind the self you think you know so well may have subtlety changed over time. So it may take some time to unearth who you are today and career options that satisfy you. The mind and ego do everything in its power to not feel uncomfortable. It is important to be self-critical but gentle as you unearth those ideals that satisfy you.

That being said, there are hundreds of assessments online. Many are fun, others very detailed and many are FREE. They can help you better understand yourself. Most will include a summary that you can critically apply.

A question to ask yourself:

  1. Do you have access and confidence to career knowledge tools and assessments that you can use to understand your current self and next steps?

If you feel confident in navigating the multitude of career tools and assessments on the market and possess confidence in using them, you probably can reach this goal without a career coach.

This brings me to the next point: creating the action to generate the results. You know your vision now; the goal that you are supposed to pursue. Perhaps it is obtaining a specific training or certification that will open the next career door. Maybe you know the job title you are working toward or the work you are supposed to do in the world.

Once you are clear on the action to reach the goal, you have to put action and strategy into practice. It is important to understand if you have the self-discipline habits and action steps to follow through.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you possess the mental dialogue and stamina to do what is required to pursue the vision?
  2. What was the last goal you accomplished that had multiple steps and required that you encourage yourself over and over to reach your goal?
  3. Did you reach it? What did you do or say to yourself to regain your stamina?

If you can recall an instance where you reached a goal without support or gentle reminders or regular encouragement, then you can probably reach this goal without a career coach.

Finally, let's talk about the budget.

Many people decide to fix their own houses, cars, or appliances to save money and have self-satisfaction from accomplishing that goal. Let’s use this same analogy with fixing your career. Is learning the skill of fixing your career something that you think you will use over and over? Do you think that the satisfaction of doing it yourself is worth the effort?

On average, clients spend from $600-3000 to meet their career goals when working with career coaches. This is anywhere from a week’s pay to a month’s pay. Most coaches’ rate equates to $100-200/hr for 4-5 hour sessions. What is your time worth? Can you do something else as a better use of your time? Of course, a coach probably can help you get there faster but the lessons you learn by doing it yourself will last a lifetime.

A question to ask yourself:

  1. Will spending less than $1000 on your own career goals allow you to earn more than 10% of what you are earning now? Or will it give you more peace and health in a shorter amount of time?

If the answer is no, then career coaching should be done by yourself. If yes, it may be cost effective to hire a career coach to ensure you reach your goals in a timely fashion. Look for a future blog post that will outline all of the resources to finding effective qualified career coaches.

Monday, July 22, 2019

I Have Served My Family Purpose – It’s Time for Me

For many women, I believe a time comes when we realize that we have done the best for our families. We have endured the late nights encouraging or nursing someone back to their normal self. We have risen early to shuffle people out of the home; providing a great start to the day just like a well-rounded breakfast would provide necessary nourishment. We have taken the second job or not taken a job to help the family unit thrive (or at least remain stable, whether that’s financially or emotionally).

But perhaps we have poured out this protectiveness and tolerance only to find out that these actions of love have hurt our families by making them more dependent and less self-sufficient. Does this sound familiar? When women reach this epiphany, and the feeling persists after deep reflection, it is time to make a change.

Many feelings can surface during the transition. Guilt that we are doing something we shouldn’t do. New concerns for the welfare of the family. Doubt, both in your abilities to navigate the transition as well as doubt in your actual abilities to land a job or launch a new career. But perhaps one of the most challenging feelings to process is regret. There can be sadness that creeps up and reminds us that we could have done more when we were younger and had more energy. All of these feelings should be acknowledged but not obsessed on. Acknowledge them, yes. But then redirect your thinking to what you are doing now and in the future. Shifting focus like this is the key to moving past these challenging feelings.

Putting yourself first is thinking about your desires, needs, and aspirations as you think about others that are close in your life. We have a tendency to put ourselves last as we are planning or reflecting on what needs doing. If you are at the stage where your need for change has persisted, it is time to ask the question: What do I need in this situation? Ask this question when planning vacations, financial responsibilities, allocating your time to activities, and many other areas.

When we begin to put ourselves first, we may believe that this decision will take us far from home, our children. Or at worst that our closest relationships will be strained. Those that have come from a strong spiritual background may believe that women should rule the home while men provide. I believe this can be one woman’s truth but not a final truth. All of these beliefs can be adapted over time with clear and consistent communication with our loved ones.

Before clear communication can take place, we must be clear on where we are going and what we want. A good network of other women who have varied experiences and are willing to listen and encourage is a great start. Utilizing the many assessments (personality, work interest, Myers, work values, skills, and aptitude) are good data points for self-knowledge. Working with a life, health, or career coach can also be a great aid.

Here are some steps to ensure that you transition well and your family survives intact:

  1. Be clear about what you want. Spend as much time as you need to figure this out.
    • Do you need more time for personal pursuits?
    • More time for career pursuits and less time doing housework/paying bills?
    • Do you want more time pursuing what is directly in line with your core values?
    • What are your core values?
  2. Believe you can achieve.
    The vision board process is a great mindset shifting tool that works over time. Once you establish what you want, create a visual example of that vision.
  3. Communicate your desires to your family and support system. Delegate!
    Help your family see how your transition will benefit you and them. No one likes change, especially those that are comfortable. But creating a picture for your family on how this change will help the family unit is key. It might be as simple as you will be “happier” and more agreeable. Share with your stakeholders (family) that this transition will result in more income for the family, more stability for the family, or simply more life satisfaction for you (because you are slightly miserable). Have faith and patience that if we do not understand it now, we will in the future. Spend time thinking about how the family will adapt and grow in ways we may not have considered. Share this vision with them and let them add their expectations to this new way of life. For example, a certain family member might be enticed with the idea of having their favorite dishes more often since the need to cook or meal plan might fall on them in the future.

This transition will not be easy, but it will be rewarding if you hold to the truths you uncover about yourself. Choosing you does not mean that your family will drown or fail without you. Keep communication (speaking and listening) strong and everyone can work together to fulfill the entire family’s needs.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Work-Life Balance: Whose Responsibility Is It?

Work-life balance is the new focus, and rightfully so. It is the daily balancing act of juggling one’s working time (paid or volunteer) and the other activities that are important to you.

These other activities could be anything; like having the time or mental space to paint our nails with green nail polish, walking through a sunflower garden, or working out to prepare for a climb in the Nepali Mountains. It could be having bandwidth to attend your child’s awards ceremony in the middle of the day or the flexible schedule to leave work and check on your elderly parent during the workday.

This flexibility to balance our work and engage in meaningful activities benefits workers in many ways. It allows workers to be peaceful and able to meet company goals. Workers that are able to seek work-life balance feel mentally grounded or in-control. In addition, workers see physical benefits, such as the ability to maintain a desired weight, good sleep, more stable blood sugars, lower blood pressures, and a decreasing risk of Alzheimer due to high stresses.

According to a 2009 Wisconsin Marshfield Clinic Study, women who vacation more than once a year have less depression and tension as well as greater marital (or relational) satisfaction than other groups.

Employers benefit when employees are able to give their all in the workplace and fully commit to reaching the company's goals or mission. With sufficient paid, sick, and volunteer leave offerings, employers also have the benefit of seeing less unplanned absenteeism and retaining skilled employees over time. When policies are in place to allow for flexible working arrangements, employees have the opportunity to arrive and leave work with less stress. They come to work more refreshed and better equipped to tackle the day's demands.

Google recently implemented a policy to increase their paid time off from 12 weeks to 18 weeks and found that new mothers leaving the company decreased by 50%.

Both employers and employees see the benefits of work-life balance, but whose responsibility is it?

Employers (C-Level executives in conjunction with HR) have the strongest influence because they can change the work culture from the top down. The culture can be changed by implementing training and policies that enforce and support work while balancing personal life. These initiatives that companies pledge to implement should be structured to affect all individuals and not just certain groups of the working population (such as just women). When the policies are created to encompass all individuals, the culture can change for the better. Influencers are creating initiatives and policies like subsidies for child care onsite at the workplace, funding for paid parental leave (for males and females in the event of birth or adoption), and initiatives that support single parents.

This does not mean employees have no power or say in enforcing this balance. Employees retain the right to call the shots on where they work. Perhaps they may not be able to make immediate job changes but they can be strategic about their next job move. Rest assured, there is an employer putting benefits in place to support work-life balance for their workforce. In order to stay competitive and retain their workers, it is critical. Moreover, an employee might not leave the company, but they may decide to change roles, request an alternative work schedule, or even a job share to allow for more balance. Communication is key. How will an employer know the needs of their workforce if it is not shared? Participation in surveys, communicating with HR respectfully, suggesting strategies where everyone wins are all critical.

Work-life balance is the responsibility of BOTH the employee and the employer because it affects everyone. Employers need to focus on creating this environment through policies and initiatives, all based on consistent input from regular employees who come from varying backgrounds and with different needs. This will ensure that employees can thrive and still stay energized and excited about contributing to company goals. Employees need to communicate openly with influencers about their needs and stay abreast of work-life balance initiatives in other organizations. When both parties work to do their part, everyone wins!