What’s Your Story? Standing Out During a Job Interview

Stories have the power to make you memorable and credible, especially during a job interview.
Much like a business, you have to stand out from the competition, sell yourself, or rather, convince the recruiter that you are the best choice.

The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling is as old as the Stone Age (or so we would imagine). We are always telling each other stories, whether at the office copier, over late Friday afternoon drinks, or around the supper table at day’s end.

Storytelling can also be a powerful tool during a networking event, social party, informational meeting or when interviewing with prospective employers.
Well-crafted, interesting and compelling stories will help you distinguish yourself in a positive way, and enhance your chances of becoming the ideal candidate in the recruiting process.

During a job interview, it just isn’t enough to say that you are particularly skilled in an area. For example, to assert that you provide direction and oversee your firm’s customer service, or that in your law office you are considered the expert on digital marketing is not cutting it anymore. You must also paint a picture; you must demonstrate your skills by telling stories that will illustrate your assets.

“Stories Sell, Facts Tell”

When you use anecdotes during an information-gathering session, or a job interview, you can capture your listener’s attention. Storytelling will enliven your résumé with imagery and illustrate your abilities clearly and graphically.
Accomplishment stories turn a drab recitation of facts into a compelling narrative and make you memorable as a candidate.

There are different types of stories that you can use to articulate your strengths, uniqueness or expertise.

“Who are you” story
Give something of yourself by telling others about where you are from, what school you attended, the family you grew up in, etc. People are interested to learn more about “you”.

“Who do you represent” story
Describe the company or organization you work for or represent with an anecdote, your role and responsibility, what you do, and how you contribute to the success of your company.

“How you help your client” story
All organizations have clients in one form or another. Craft a story about how you (or your organization) serve them. What problems do you solve? What is your role in the value creation process?

“Your lesson learned” story
We are human. Making mistakes and learning from them is a valuable lesson to communicate with others. This will help connect and build rapport faster.

We all love to hear stories. Good stories move us. They touch us, they teach us, and they cause us to remember. Your job interview should be about you. After all, isn’t the recruiter specifically looking for someone just like you: skilled, experienced, engaging? The facts are: you are skilled, experienced and engaging. The story you should tell is how you got there.

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Six Secrets of Wise Time Management

I would like to share six secrets on time management to start the New Year with fresh insights and practices for being productive and working smart in the midst of turbulent time pressure.

We have to constantly deal with interruptions, distractions, competing priorities, and unforeseen crises no matter where we are. However, there is a way to manage our time well and wisely in order to

  1. Manage our stress level in a positive way
  2. Get more done every day
  3. Stay energetic and productive in the long run
  4. Become more productive instead of staying later, working more or trying yet another questionable tip

Time Management Secrets

The following six insights are based on the best-selling book The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. I met Jim and Tony personally, attended their presentations and workshops, read their book and applied their ideas into my life over the last few years. It pays off.

#1: To better manage time, we have to learn to better manage our energy

Many productivity thinkers over the years have focused on the idea of time: there is a limited number of hours in a day. Time goes by, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour – there’s no stopping it and we can’t really manage it.

What we can manage is the energy we bring to those hours. To be an effective and productive person, it’s important to spend those hours wisely, i.e. according to our energy level.

If we’re low on energy, it doesn’t matter how much time we have available to accomplish a task – we’ll be so exhausted that we will not get the expected performance outcome. On the other hand, when we have a ton of energy, we can get many things done in very little time.

The key to effective time management is effective energy management: establish ways to feel energetic – and highly energized – each day.

#2: Effective use of available energy will get results

Energy is expandable; time is not. We only have so much energy to use each day. However, we can expand our capacity for productive effort. As long as we take care of ourselves and pay attention to how much energy we have, we can accomplish surprising amounts of work.

On a calendar, there’s no visible difference between 8 – 9am and 1-2pm.

Physically and energetically, there’s a huge difference. Our body operates in energy cycles in which our energy fluctuates up and down. Like the circadian cycle, which is responsible for our waking/sleeping pattern, there are other cycles as well, which naturally oscillates every 90 minutes between high and low energy. Those cycles are normal, so it is useful to pay attention to them. Every hour and a half or so, your body needs a bit of relaxation and rest. Powering through the dip in energy is actually counterproductive – we are not giving our body the rest it needs to operate at peak performance.

#3: Think like an athlete!

When working, think like a sprinter – we can cover a lot of ground in a quick burst, but we can’t keep up that pace all day. With a little rest between bursts, however, we can sprint over and over again.

When we sprint or run fast for hours, we’ll wear ourselves out, and we’ll need a longer period of recovery before we are ready to go again. At the extreme, some people work themselves to  exhaustion, at which point their body forces them to recover via injury or illness. We can only push ourselves so much. There are physical limits. Recovery is mandatory, not optional.

Top athletes plan cycles of high performance (training, competition) and relaxation (rest, recover). When an athlete overtrains, he runs the risk of reaching a breaking point, or injury, and his performance diminishes.

As “corporate” athletes, we too have to think in cycles when it comes to effective and healthy time management.

#4: Strategic disengagement is one of the best productivity enhancement tools

Some people think of human beings as mechanized robots in a sense: no breaks during work hours, no lunchtime, no recovery – all day, every day. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Humans are “energy” beings, and we have physical needs. It’s useful to think of our body as one integrated energetic system, which we use to get things done. If that system breaks or wears down, we won’t accomplish anything.

Just as we regularly fill the gas tank of our vehicle, we have to refill our “energy” tank. We need relaxation, rest, recovery, and rejuvenation. One of the best ways to maintain high level of performance over the year is taking breaks; a concept called strategic disengagement. Based on our individual energy cycles of high performance and relaxation, it is critical to plan and take phases of strategic disengagement to refill the gas tank and capitalize on effective time management – before we run out of gas.

#5: Stress is a good thing – if used consciously

From a physical and energy standpoint, it is as important to take strategic breaks, as it is critical to exert stress. There is positive stress (eustress) and negative stress (distress) – usually people refer to stress as “distress”. Positive stress is good. If I want to build stronger muscles, putting stress and tension on the muscle will help grow it. Therefore, it is good to plan “stressful” time periods, where we are challenged and forced to push to our capacity. Too often, we do that, but unconsciously until we break down. The critical element is to do it intentionally.

Conscious (positive) stress management is like a form of energy resistance training. Stress becomes a signal our bodies use to generate more energy to meet the demand. As long as we’re getting enough rest and recovery, it pays to exert – even exhaust – ourselves. We get stronger, build resilience and expand capacity for energy.

#6: Establish daily “energy management” habits

Taking care of yourself and maintaining a high energy level is a huge priority. There are four types of energy:

  1. Physical energy: to stay physically energized
  2. Mental energy: to maintain mental focus
  3. Emotional energy: to be emotionally connected and present
  4. Spiritual energy: to live with purpose and meaning

Managing your physical energy is the most important factor to effective time management. If we run out of physical energy, all other energies will be negatively impacted.

There are three areas that will help keep your physical energy levels high each day:

1) Food is your body’s fuel – ensure you’re getting enough (not too much), that’s it’s high quality, and that it contains enough of the protein and nutrients your body needs to function optimally. Additionally drink enough water. Stay away from refined sugars. When in doubt, eat like humans ate thousands of years ago.

2) Time management at its best: Rest, relax, sleep – give you body appropriate amount of time to recover; daily, weekly, monthly. Listen to your body and plan what is best for you. Everybody is different and has different needs. Personally, I need 8 hours of sleep; I have a friend who only needs 5 hours.

3) Physical exercise – working out is one of the most effective “positive” stress management tools. Ensure you include cardio training (to keep your heart healthy) and resistance training (to keep your body and muscles strong).

Since everyone’s energy cycles are different, it is beneficial to learn what yours are. I recommend using a “daily time log”: record your energy levels throughout the day. Every hour or so, tune into how you’re feeling – are you at a high point, or at a low point?

Once you understand your energy patterns, it’s easier to plan your day and manage your time.

Turn Stress into a Crucial Business Advantage

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye, psychologist

 

With the constant challenge of balancing our personal and professional lives, stress has become a familiar companion.

According to the American Institute of Stress, 33% of Americans experience what they consider to be extreme stress. An additional 15% reported that stress creates a “negative impact on their personal and professional life” and 30% of respondents reported that they “are always or often under stress at work.”

To most people stress carries a negative connotation, but the American Psychological Association actually distinguishes between two categories of stress — negative stress (or distress), and positive stress (referred to as eustress).

To illustrate the difference between distress and eustress, consider myself, an experienced skier, standing atop a steep 11,000-foot slope with a colleague of mine, who happens to be a novice skier.

For me, someone who began skiing at the age of four, the anticipation of waiting at the top of a challenging course creates a thrill and sense of  vigor in me that motivates me to take on the hill with a sense of purpose and passion.

For my colleague, however, the prospect of tackling that slope creates a high level of distress — fear and anxiety at the prospect of an activity so far beyond their level of skill and experience.

The difference between distress and eustress lies not in the stressor itself — not in the challenging terrain of the hill — but in our confidence in the ability to navigate that terrain, and our willingness to deal with and manage what is potentially a stressful situation.

3 Techniques to Manage Workplace Stress

For about six months, I’ve been coaching Matt, the Chief Financial Officer at a successful construction company,

Anticipating a very extensive and time-consuming project coming down the pipeline at work, Matt is already experiencing distress over how he will manage the pressure of the upcoming demands this project will create for him. Adding to Matt’s anxiety is his history of becoming overwhelmed when dealing with stressful situations at work.

How can Matt more effectively handle what he perceives as hectic or chaotic circumstances?

 

1. Develop and Practice Effective Coping Techniques

To overcome distress, it is essential to find practical ways to manage stress. In an effort to minimize Matt’s negative reaction to these increased pressures at work, I coached him in creating a well-developed plan that included a clear outline of each project, what Matt wished to accomplish and a delegation of tasks. This broke the projects down into manageable goals and actions that were within Matt’s control. Having a detailed project plan eliminates a lot of the what-if’s and uncertainty. This helps diminish the impact of anxiety over things that are out of our control. If unexpected issues do arise, it is important to find enough awareness to step away from the situation, take a deep breath, and relax. As simple and natural a gesture as it is, breathing helps reduce stress by decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure and relaxing tension throughout the body. It can allow you to find balance and come back to a stressful situation refreshed and focused.

In summary:
✔ Develop a straightforward project outline.
✔ Break tasks down into manageable pieces.
✔ Use breathing exercises to diminish tension in the moment.

2. Develop Your Own Path to Inner Resilience 

Consider someone who is doing strength training exercises in order to build more muscle mass. They must put stress on the muscle they are training in order to break it down and allow the muscle to then rebuild and strengthen.

We can apply the same principle in leveraging the pressure within a stressful situation to build and strengthen an internal resilience. Allow yourself to experience tense situations, in which you can practice proven stress management techniques to defeat negative stress. By doing this, you will build confidence in your ability to overcome obstacles and to meet future difficulties with an increased sense of determination and optimism.

As psychotherapist and author Bryan Robinson points out, “the origins of workplace stress depend on the resilience workers bring to their work. The No. 1 medicine [is] to find your inner resilient zone.”

In summary: “Step into” your stress experience to build confidence and establish a pattern of resilience.

 

3. Change Your Personal Perception of Stress

According to psychologist Hans Selye, who essentially defined the way we view the concept of stress in modern life, noted that “not all stress reactions are equal…due to differences in the subject’s perception and emotional reaction.”

Getting a client to change their perception of an overwhelming obstacle and rather view it as an opportunity for progress and improvement can actually transform their distress into eustress.

To alter perception, approach each challenge with a positive mindset, alleviating negative thoughts and allowing for feelings of achievement and pride once a goal is accomplished or a project completed successfully.

“By eliminating roadblocks within you, such as pessimism or a tendency to complain frequently about your problems, Robinson says you can better manage the pressure and not let your stress affect those around you.”

In summary: Transform negative perceptions by celebrating the way you address challenges. Develop a mental pattern of optimism and confidence.

The Human Advantage — Resilience

While it’s not always possible to control the external factors in our lives that create stress, effective coping techniques are within our control. By building an inner resilience in the face of stress — and by changing our perceptions — we can create space for growth and success.

Four steps to provide effective performance feedback

Utilize performance appraisals as a tool for progress

A prevalent issue among managers is how they utilize performance appraisals as a tool to provide feedback, create higher engagement and enhance performance for employees.

Many managers dread doing performance appraisals because the forms requested from the companies are lengthy, tedious or have irrelevant or ineffectual questions. It’s no surprise then that only 8 percent of companies report that their performance management process drives high levels of value, while 58 percent said it is not an effective use of time. 

Simple, but effective

I’ve developed a simple performance feedback process that consistently yields the desired results because the approach

  • is short and concise
  • focuses on qualitative feedback
  • increases the receptiveness for the employees
  • supports positive lasting change in important improvement areas

Case in point is my client Martin, a CEO of a medical device company. Martin was experiencing some dissatisfaction in the performance of one of his sales managers, John.  Martin found that John brought great strengths to both the management team and his sales team, but he also noticed some inconsistencies and development needs in John’s role. 

In a short, focused conversation, I helped Martin prepare a 1-page form to provide feedback on John’s performance and encourage John to take action for creating positive change. The performance appraisal entails the following four steps:

           1.  Start with strengths and accomplishments

Employees welcome and want to hear feedback when it is presented and delivered in a positive way. Studies show that managers who focus on strengths as opposed to weaknesses create more actively engaged employees.  According to a 2009 Gallup poll, 61% of employees who felt their managers focused on the employees’ strengths and positive traits were consistently more engaged, in contrast to 39% of employees who were not engaged or actively disengaged. Based on statistics like these, Martin started pointing out John’s strengths as a compassionate and patient manager with strong product expertise and the ability to deepen relationships with existing customers. By focusing on an employee’s valued accomplishments and strengths, it makes them much more likely to then be receptive to suggestions on areas to change.

           2.  Identify development areas instead of weaknesses

The development section of the appraisal addresses suggested areas of improvement.  Instead of pointing out an employee’s shortfalls, deficiencies or weaknesses, we approach them from a future-oriented perspective.  In John’s case, Martin suggested his manager develop his closing abilities, take initiative in communicating with potential new customers, be strategic in how he develops his territory by paying closer attention to the numbers and revenue, and develop his writing skills through email communications and in-person events.  By outlining very specifically the areas the company expected to see improvement, John received the guidance he needed to translate those expectations into actionable steps and new behaviors. 

          3. Clarity goals, future projects & expected deliverables

Collaborating with an employee to develop precise goals is an effective way to encourage and support them in their improvement.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “The more you can involve your employees in setting goals for themselves and the group, the more committed to those goals they are likely to be.” 

John and Martin agreed that it was reasonable to expect that John make regular appointments and meetings with new potential clients and target at least one new appointment per week.  These objectives would challenge John, but more importantly, they were attainable.  Developing specific measurable goals with the employee guides them in creating manageable objectives and also allows for results that can later be evaluated to determine whether the employee’s efforts were successful.

           4.  Determine action steps and follow-up

An effective performance feedback discussion entails specific action steps the employee can take to reach their objectives and the goals of the company. Once a goal is set, ask your employee to explain how he or she plans to meet it. Have him or her break the goal down into tasks and set milestones, especially if it’s a large or long-term improvement project.

In our example, John’s action steps included developing a plan for his sales territory, making 5 calls to new prospective clients and preparing by-weekly 20-min interactions with each of his eight sales professionals. An additional expectation that Martin and John agreed upon was a monthly 45 minutes coaching session to review progress.  

Follow-up is THE key success factor

Change doesn’t happen in a meeting. Consistent follow-up is key to ensuring lasting improvement in key behaviors and skills. Waiting a year before the next appraisal to provide continued feedback to the employee on their progress is unproductive.  Setting up short (15 minute) and regular (monthly) meetings is much more effective in monitoring whether expectations are being met. It also demonstrates the importance of support for the employees.

When centered around a simple and positive approach, performance feedback and appraisals prove to be highly useful in creating greater employee engagement, fostering a better working relationship and result in improved employee performance.

Three Techniques to Develop a Positive Attitude

Experience is the best teacher. Unfortunately, having an experience does not guarantee learning from it.

From my personal experience, people with a positive attitude tend to have a strong learning mindset: they show curiosity, ask a lot of questions, seek and learn from new challenging experiences, are inquisitive and interested about others, and are willing to take risks.

A simple way to develop a more positive attitude is to foster a learning mindset, the ability to learn from experience. Yet many people either take it for granted or ignore it outright.

The biggest barrier to learning from experience is many of us live our lives on “automatic pilot” making little or no efforts to learn from experiences. We run from meeting to meeting, jump from task to task, or allow interruptions to distract us, without consciously thinking about what we are really doing. This mindlessness prevents us from gaining valuable learning insight from experience.

Another obstacle to an open learning mindset is a lack of self-efficacy, the belief in our own ability to deal with various situations. People with weak self-efficacy tend to avoid challenging tasks or difficult situations, focus on negative outcomes, and lose confidence in personal abilities to learn and grow. They tend to stay in a place of “comfort”, rather than seeking new, challenging assignments.

My colleague Steve Terrell, an expert in organizational transformation, has written a paper on “Learning Mindset – foster the ability to learn from experience” *). He recommends three methods to develop a strong learning mindset and boost a positive attitude:

1. Practice MindFULness instead of MindLESSness

Mindfulness is a state in with we focus on present and direct experiences. We pay attention to the present, we live in the now. We are intentionally aware and attentive to our environment and immediate experience. In order to do that, it takes mindfulness, a mental and emotional awareness and consciousness of our thoughts and feelings.

Focus on what you “feel”. Trying to understand mindfulness by its definition is like trying to understand what it is to “fall in love” by reading a textbook. You might get a general idea, but you would be missing out on the best part: what it actually feels like.

2. Use “preflection” and “reflection” questions

Each morning, use those two questions to “preflect”:

What are the opportunities for learning for me today? What do I want to learn today?

Who will I meet I can learn from? What situations will give me an opportunity to learn?

Each evening, “reflect” on the following questions:

What did I learn today? What key insights or lessons did I take away?
Who was most influential and valuable in my learning experience? What did they teach me?

3. Focus on “Learning Questions” and avoid “Judging Questions”

When facing a challenge, problem or interpersonal conflict, apply learning questions and withhold any judgments:

Learning Questions 

What works?
What am I responsible for?
What can I learn?
What is useful about this?
What the big picture?
What is my lesson in this?
What can I change?

Judging Questions

What is wrong?
Why me?
Whose fault is it?
Why did they do this to me?
What can I do to prove I am right?
How will this be a problem?
Why bother?

By consciously and repeatedly applying those “mindful” practices, you will develop your learning mindset. Over time, you will begin to develop new neural pathways that contribute to new habits and behaviors toward a positive attitude.

*) To download Steve Terrell’s E-book “Learning Mindset” visit his website: www.aspireconsulting.net