Welcome to SixFigureStart®

Career Coaching by Former Fortune 500 Recruiters

Book Review: Improv Wisdom By Patricia Madson

I have to love the book that introduced me to the term, bricolage, or as Madson puts it, “use what is there artfully.”  Improv Wisdom by Patricia Madson is a must-read for improvisers but still a good read if all you know about improv is Drew Carey in “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Madson, chair of the undergraduate acting department at Stanford and creator of the Stanford Improvisors, lists 13 maxims of improv and coaches on how these relate to life at large, not just on stage.  The subtitle of the book, “Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up” are two of the maxims. Bricolage was in the chapter on Make Mistakes, Please.  Other insightful chapters include Be Average, Face the Facts, and Stay On Course. 

You will likely enjoy the book more if you have improv in your experience because Madson doesn’t take too much time explaining the concepts.  But her ability to draw parallels between what could be seen as pithy improv rules and important life concepts is impressive.   This book is a fast read, thoroughly enjoyable, and incredibly deep.


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SixFigureStart Quoted In CBS Moneywatch

Read my thoughts on working for free in Louise Tutelian‘s latest article for CBS Moneywatch:


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How Final Round Job Interviews Are Different…Or Not

A workshop participant recently asked me, “How do I prepare for my final interview at [major financial institution]?”

Kudos to this person for recognizing that final round job interviews are different from other interviews.  At the finalist stage, the prospective employer knows much more about you and can tailor the interviews accordingly.  So dissect the rounds prior to this one and review what everyone who interviewed you asked and what you answered.  You need to be consistent.  You need to recall everyone by name (to show that you care).  You need to be able to summarize what you discussed (to show that you were listening).

However, you can never know that this is indeed the final round.  Unless you are a student and there is a very structured “Super Saturday” campus recruiting process where all interviews are completed in a day, it is never clear – even if they tell you it’s the final – that it’s the final.  A key decision-maker may not show.  The job spec may change ever so slightly just after finals time, and it turns out they need to screen for additional things.  Because you should never feel certain the final round is the final you need to interview as if there will be more rounds.  Don’t get over-anxious that this is a make or break.  Don’t get presumptuous pushing for a decision or making a hard close.  In this way, treat the final round like any earlier job interview.  Explicitly reiterate your interest.  Have intelligent questions to ask.  Leave them wanting more. 

I don’t want to give the impression from the above general pieces of feedback that I would not change how I coach a client through subsequent job interviews v. a general first round.  Since the employer knows more at this stage, so should my client.  We would need to review exactly what she said, not just to ensure consistency, but to assess what worked and what didn’t, what was left unclear or unsaid, what needs to be highlighted or refined.  Ultimately, the strategy for dealing with subsequent job interviews is highly personalized because each interview changes the nature of the job search relationship.  As the candidate, therefore, you need to be tracking this type of data and review it for what needs to be done specifically at this time and for this employer.  If you have two “finals” with two different employers, your strategy would still be different (same you, but different targets).  Final rounds are different, but each job interview is different, and a distinct, highly focused approach to each is required.

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3 Tips For Productive Interview Practice

A lot is written about how to interview well.  Most of the advice includes the benefit of practice.  But do you know the best way to practice?  You do not want the practice to turn into canned, impersonal responses.  You do not want to practice only specific questions so that you can’t deal with a question you didn’t expect.  You don’t want to practice bad habits.  Instead, here are 3 tips for productive interview practice:

Practice the process.  Dress up for your practice interview.  Set the environment to match where you might be.  Match the practice as close to the reality as possible.  In my mock interviews with clients, we open the session in interview mode.  No warm up coaching.  We just start.  The small talk we do is in the style of what would happen in the real interview.  That’s the way interviews are, and that’s the way they need to be practiced.

Practice phone interviews.  All of my clients practice phone interviews, not just live.  You need to handle phone interviews differently than live interviews.  The atmosphere is different – there is a danger of being too informal as you are typically in a more comfortable space.  The medium is different – energy doesn’t travel well over the phone.  The conversation is harder – you lose the visual cues so you have to listen more carefully in order to engage your interviewer.  If my clients are up to it, we tape the interview – no way to argue with their own voice saying those jumbled, hesitant, off-target responses.

Practice with someone who can actually help you.  One client gave me an interview response he learned from a family member that had me burst out laughing.  Turns out, as I expected, this person hadn’t been on the market for a decade, which explained the out-of-touch response.  Before you take advice, think about where it’s coming from.  If it’s a jobseeker, are they successful and do they work where you want to work?  If it’s a recruiter, what is their agenda and why are they being so candid?  (When I recruited I never gave candid feedback for liability reasons,)  If it’s a coach, are they psychoanalyzing you or do they know what it takes to get someone hired?  You want to get credible advice that you can actually use.  You don’t want to practice bad (or laughable) interview technique.

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Book Review: Get Out of Your Own Way at Work…And Help Others Do the Same

Get Out of Your Own Way at Work…And Help Others Do the Same by Mark Goulston is a fast, digestible read on a variety of failings that might beset you or a colleague at work.  Procrastination, not taking No for an answer, and staying too long in a job you should leave are just 3 of the 40 items covered in the book.  Each item has an anecdote to give it 3-d clarity, helpful tips, and a quote.  All in all the short chapters provide a good snapshot of what the problem is and some strategies to address it. 

Goulston created a very efficient book and seems to know his stuff.  While I liked the breadth of it, I wanted to go deeper on each, even if it meant leaving some out.  But that’s my preference.  This is a good book for the reference shelf when you find yourself stuck in a work rut or managing a difficult team member.  You can get some quick tips and inspiration here.

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Book Review: Power of Less by Leo Babauta

I read Power of Less by Leo Babauta at the recommendation of a life coach I respect greatly (and still do despite this book).  Who isn’t attracted to the notion that we can simplify our life and still be more productive?  Unfortunately, that temptation is merely that — a temptation with no substance at least from this book.  I’m glad I borrowed it from the library, rather than purchased it.  Here’s the summary:

To do less and still get more done, cut to the most essential.  Author can’t tell you what those essentials are; you have to figure that out.  End of book.

Babauta suggests picking no more than 3 goals at a time and then sticking to them till they are all done, as opposed to adding a goal once just 1 is done.  That intrigued me for the logistical possibilities but otherwise I wasn’t sure why that would work.  Babauta also advises to take small steps (exercise first just 10 minutes rather than 30) but that’s been advised in numerous other books.

The best I can say about Power of Less is that it’s a fast read and a good reminder to simplify, even if it doesn’t offer any suggestions on how.

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Don’t Tell Me About Yourself

When recruiters ask the popular question, “Tell me about yourself,” they don’t really want you to tell them about yourself.  Recruiters don’t care to know where you’re born or why you selected that college or how you got your first and subsequent jobs.  They may ask and nod appropriately but they don’t really want to know.

Instead, they only want to know about you in relation to them.  If where you grew up means that you have an affinity to a geography that’s pertinent to an open position or their searches in general, then they care where you grew up.  If your first job is a direct parallel to a role they may have for you, then they want to hear about that.  The items of interest aren’t about you, but rather the link between you and the position.  Therefore, your primary objective isn’t to talk about yourself but rather to make that link between you and the position.

To this extent, your answer to “Tell me about yourself” can and should be different depending on who is asking you.  There are many facts about yourself so you can still be truthful while being selective.  Select those facts that highlight and strengthen the link between you and the person with whom you are speaking.  This of course implies that you know something about the interviewer and the position (remember to do this critical research!).  Then you can pick specific stories and examples that parallel the skills and experience you are expected to have.  You can highlight the interests that confirm you are motivated for the right reasons.  You don’t just tell them about yourself, but you reveal the myriad reasons why you are exactly what they need.

Remember, tell me about yourself = tell me why I should hire you.

Your interests = your desire for the job

Your background = your relevance to the job

Everything you say must promote and further your candidacy.  There is no line of questioning in the interview that is separate from the job.

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Social Networking Is Not Just About Networking

Because LinkedIn and Facebook are referred to as social networking, most jobseekers use them primarily or even exclusively as networking tools.  However, social networks are valuable at every stage of the job search, not just networking.

Target identification.  Use the detailed profiles in LinkedIn to get a better understanding of different job functions and career paths.  If you think you want to work in corporate philanthropy, find people who have these jobs and review their experience, skills, and projects.  Use this as a guide to what you might need in your career, or at least as good issues to research.

Company and industry research.  Again using the profile data, pay attention to how people talk about their work.  The projects people are working on are invaluable clues to deciphering what their company exactly does, especially when it is a small, privately held company with little published information about clients or projects.  Group Discussions are another way to get a sense for a company or industry.  Find a company alumni group or industry niche and follow the discussions or ask questions out right.

Salary data.  Use the Q&A function or specific Group Discussions in LinkedIn to collect data on salary, lifestyle, growth prospects, and other useful information for your own offer negotiation.   Because so many geographies and industries are represented on online social networks you can specify exactly what you are looking for and likely find a close proxy.

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Do You Know Where Your Stakeholders Are

When I was growing up, there was a popular TV public service announcement that would ask, “It’s 10pm.  Do you know where your children are?”  This would presumably remind parents that they should keep tabs on their children.  They’re precious.  Parents are responsible for them.  Of course parents should know where their children are.

If you look at your career, there are stakeholders who are invested in your career.  These people are your precious allies.  They are relying on you so you have a responsibility to them.  But take your nose out of your work for a moment and think:  who are your stakeholders?  Is your boss a stakeholder?  Is it people in the department that you often have to share data with?  Is it senior management, two or three levels above you?  Is it your mentor, from an area of the company that isn’t much related to yours?  Do you know where your stakeholders are? 

Stakeholders are the people who have a vested interest in the success of your career – because it helps their career, because they happen to like you, because what you do makes their job easier.  Whatever reason it may be, you need to have stakeholders because these people will fight for you when plum assignments are given, when raises are decided, when restructuring means someone gets the short end of the stick. 

So your first step is to identify your stakeholders.  Who benefits from your work?  You then need to nourish these relationships.  Figure out why they are invested in you and make sure you play your part.    Finally, you should continually watch your stakeholders’ moves.  If your stakeholders are leaving, you need to know you can replace them or be prepared to follow them out the door.  If your stakeholders are doing well, see how you can move into their expanded sphere of influence. 

Proactive career management means that you pay attention to the benefit you bring to the company and your stakeholders.  Do not just blindly assume that people will notice your good work.  Be specific and deliberate about who you are serving and the value that your work provides.  You cannot be successful all on your own.  You couldn’t possibly know everything that is going on in the company or be at all places at all times to influence all people directly.  You need to cultivate stakeholders who will believe in you and speak up for you when you are not there.  In a market of increased job insecurity, powerful stakeholder relationships are a critical way to recession-proof your job.

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3 Tips For Harnessing Your Best Energy For A Job Interview

As a former recruiter I have seen too many candidates start their best interviewing 15 minutes or more into a job interview!  By this time it’s too late, and the impression has been sent that you are lackluster, not interested or otherwise not qualified for the opening. Instead, you need to arrive at the interview with your energy already at its peak in the reception area.  Here are 3 tips to ensure that, whether you stubbed your toe on the way in, squeezed through the worst traffic or just got up on the wrong side of the bed, you can still perform at your peak for that key job interview:

Listen to an uplifting song during your commute.  It doesn’t have to be the theme from Rocky, but it needs to be something that sets the upbeat, positive tone you will need to get you pumped for the interview.

Carry an index card with a motivational quote written on it.  When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.  This is a nice example from Peter Marshall but pick whichever one that resonates with you.

Use a picture or other visual to set the tone.  I look at a picture of my kids before I go into a big meeting.  It puts things into perspective for me (i.e., whatever happens with the meeting, I have a great life).  It puts me in a good mood.  It gives me that extra push (I want to land this deal for them!).

The picture, the quote, the song take very little time and effort from you but can be powerful motivators to bring out your best in that next big meeting.

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