Monday, April 27, 2020

All Job Seekers Should Know the STAR Method

Have you ever heard of STAR?

Not the kind in the sky, or the guy who played drums for the Beatles (that's Starr, by the way -- Ringo Starr).

STAR is an acronym for situation, task, action, result.

It's something that everyone should master, especially if they are interviewing for a job.

The reason it's so valuable to job candidates is that it helps you answer interview questions in a concise, memorable and meaningful way. It's especially effective in competency-focused questions, such as when you're asked a question that starts with "Tell me about a time when...." or "Can you give an example of a situation where..."

So, here's how it could work in a job interview when the hiring manager asks you  to: "Describe a time when you were able to manage yourself without immediate supervision."

1. Situation. "I was working in the front office of a plumbing supply company when my supervisor was called away on a family emergency. My other colleague was not there that day as she had called in sick."

2. Task. "Calls began coming in from customers while some employees were also coming in looking for different information regarding delivery assignments or inventory questions."

3. Action. "The company always focused on customers first. So, I asked one of the more experienced delivery drivers to help prioritize the inventory that needed to be delivered right away. That allowed me to deal with customers and solve immediate problems and tell the others I would call them back that day. Once all the immediate calls had been resolved, I was able to prioritize all the other issues and deal with them as efficiently as I could. I explained to everyone what was going on, and found customers and staff to be understanding."

4. Result. "By prioritizing work and enlisting help when I could, I was able to keep the schedule on track, keep customers happy and prevent any bottlenecks in the work."

While this is a good strategy in an interview, it's also a great way to share your progress with a boss during a performance evaluation. Practice it a few times to feel comfortable with the process, and make sure that when you feel you've done well at work, you store that situation in your memory so you can relate it later using the STAR method.

Monday, April 20, 2020

How Your Failure Can Benefit You and the World Right Now

One of the wonderful things that's happening right now is this "we're all in this together" mentality.

But even now, when you fail, you're going to feel very, very alone.

No one is going to send you little heart emojis when you fail at work, whether it's being written up for some infraction or even being fired. Nope. When you fail it's often a very lonely thing and there may be very little "I'm in this with you" attitude from your colleagues.

Right now, a lot of people are failing. They're unproductive and the boss has noticed. They're losing their focus or mojo or whatever and just can't seem to get the job done right. Maybe they're entrepreneurs and they're watching their life's dream go right down the economic tubes.

It's tough to fail right now on top of everything else. Some may offer little sympathy when it seems so trivial in this life-and-death situation.

Still, it hurts to fail, no matter when it happens. But I've interviewed enough people over the years -- experts and everyday worker bees -- to tell you that failure can have benefits. If you need some reassurance right now that failing is OK, then I'm here to give it to you.

Here's how you can benefit from failure:
  • You will learn something. If you keep doing the same thing all the time and are successful at it, you're not going to change. You're not going to grow. Let's face it: If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it's that we need to be able to adapt, to flex and to grow. When you fail, you're learning how to pivot and how to change course when life throws your a curve, and that's always valuable. 
  • You will become a better person. When life knocked you around in high school, you learned a lot about who your real friends were, who you were as a person and what was important to you in the long run. That same lesson is learned in adulthood. When you get knocked around in your career, you learn who supports you in your network, what you really want to do and the parts of your career that really matter to you. That will make you a better person, a better employee, a better colleague and a better leader.
  • You will be more creative. I think it's fascinating to watch the way people have adapted to failures during this pandemic. New York fashion designers make face masks because of a failure to supply healthcare workers with necessary equipment. Teachers figure out ways to teach their students when the online systems go haywire. When you fail, your brain will start thinking about things like: "How could I do that differently next time?" "What can I do to salvage the situation?" Those are all good things. A creative brain is always an asset in any career.
I think failure can be tough at any time, but during a pandemic it can be even harder because you may already be feeling a lot of anxiety and stress.

Just remember that failure in your career is a great way to prepare yourself for the future and know that you're building your resiliency, creativity and character. 

That's something that will benefit you and the world.

Monday, April 13, 2020

3 Ways You Can Make a Difference During the Pandemic

Right now, everyone has to step up.

That's my mantra -- I've got to step up. Whether it's in my community, in my own family or in my job, I've got to do more. I can't be sitting by, working puzzles, watching "Tiger King" and and thinking someone else will do what needs to be done.

I don't think this has to be huge. Maybe you check on a neighbor regularly and re-learn algebra so you can help your kid with math assignments. But it also means that we're all leaders now -- and that especially includes on the job.

For example, there are a lot of books and articles about how to manage during a crisis and how to be a better leader. But you know what? We all need to be leaders now. No one gets to stand by and wait on those "who get paid to do it."

Here's what I'm suggesting, based on some research from crisis leadership experts:

1. Check in. Just as you say "Are you OK?" to your friends and family members during this time, make sure you're checking in with colleagues -- and even your boss. Just asking "How are things going?" can make a huge difference when a colleague is struggling to get work done from home or figure out how to solve a work problem. Ask questions and then listen. It could be that a co-worker or your manager just need a sounding board to work through an issue. Remember: These are things you might have done without thinking in an office setting, but isn't being done as we all stay home. This can also be an advantage for you, as we all search for a way to do something to help someone else. Just being a friendly ear can reduce a lot of anxiety for someone else and help you feel better, too.

2. Be straightforward. Have you ever tried to work with three kids underfoot or after being alone in your home for more than two weeks with no one to talk to? It's tough. It can be depressing and stressful. Now is the time to make sure you're not adding to those issues by not communicating clearly. Before you fire off that email or IM, make sure you're expressing yourself concisely and clearly. If you exchange more than a couple of messages about an issue, jump on the phone with the other person. Not only will this reduce stressful, confusing messages, but it can be good for your emotional state to connect with another voice.

3. Look to the future. Eventually, this pandemic will pass. Don't stay in panic mode by only thinking about how you're going to get through the day or week. If there's a project you've been thinking about, something that will be sort of fun or exciting, then it's OK to think about it and even start planning for it. Your colleagues may appreciate talking about something that isn't geared completely around COVID-19.

As I said earlier, I think we all have to step up. We may not be fighting the disease in a hospital alongside our brave healthcare workers, but we can make a difference in how we deal with one another in the workplace. That can go a long way to helping us all heal.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Job Seekers: Make Sure You Understand an ATS Before Applying for Any Job

If you've never heard of an applicant tracking system, you need to become very familiar with it if you're one of the millions of Americans who is looking for another job after losing yours in the pandemic.

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is used by nearly 40 percent of employers to screen candidates for job openings. This technology is designed to help employers eliminate those who are unqualified for certain positions.

This sounds reasonable, until you understand that these ATS systems can also eliminate people who are qualified simply because they don't use the right "keywords." These keywords are often skills or talents that the employer is looking for: "teamwork," "multi-tasker" or "excellent communicator."

To further complicate matters, your resume might state that you are a "team player," but you get eliminated because you didn't say "teamwork," which is what the software is seeking. While some of the newer software is designed to look for variations of "teamwork," others are not -- and you have no way of knowing if an employer has newer software.

It's been estimated that 75 percent of resumes are never seen by an actual human and are simply stewing in a company database somewhere.

While this situation may sound daunting, there are ways you can improve your chances that an ATS will let your resume through and improve your chances of getting an interview and a job. Here's what you need to do:

  • Rely on the job description. It may be a pain, but you will improve your chances of being accepted by an ATS if you use the terms of the job description whenever possible. So, don't say you're a "good communicator" when the job wants you to be "great at communications." Also, use the style posted in the job description, whether it's using the % sign instead of "percent" or writing "4 yrs." instead of "four years."
  • Use the right format and font. The older ATS systems can be a bit wonky and may have trouble recognizing Serif fonts like Times New Roman. To be on the safe side, use something like Calibri that is sans serif. Also, don't try to put in fancy design elements, even when it comes to a bullet point. It should be round, period.
  • Read the instructions. So many job seekers get tripped up by the fine print. They send a PDF when a Word document is requested, and vice versa. I know that it's exhausting filling out online applications, but you must be careful to submit the application exactly as requested. You don't want to do all the work and then get tossed because you didn't file it correctly.

Finally, remember that if you get past an ATS, you resume could be seen by a human. Even though you're trying to use all the right keywords and the right format, you want to make sure your resume highlights all your accomplishments that make you such a great fit for the job.