That Doesn’t Count (in Their Eyes)

I write this as a voice needing to be heard about career growth in the field of learning and development. This article is a compilation of conversations I’ve had with many senior professionals who are dedicated to continued professional growth while striving to develop talent within organizations both internally & as external consultants. 

You, the Experienced Professional

team shotYou have several years of experience and a Master’s degree in your field. You’ve been a Senior-level, a Specialist, a Consultant, a Partner, and a Project Manager – but never a Training Manager. “Influence without Authority” is your mantra.  The projects you led have been in the millions of dollars. You’ve interviewed, selected, and hired multiple vendor resources and made decisions on resource allocations and pay rates. But, you’ve never been a Training Manager.

You’ve run your own consulting firm for several years, hiring multiple subcontractors and developing their competencies on relevant software, project management, and client consulting skills. And yes, you’ve even had to fire someone you hired. You’ve run your budget to determine what software, office equipment, and marketing avenues to pursue, and which conferences/certificates to obtain to keep up with your own learning. You write proposals, network with stakeholders, influence, learn from and form partnerships with your peers. But, you’ve never been a Training Manager.

You’ve provided several years of service on the board of local non-profits in your field where you were in charge of a six-figure budget, including a year as president during which you lead a board of a dozen members and oversaw a chapter membership of several hundred. Your graduate school advisor asks you to come back and serve as part of a panel on successful alumni in the field. You are sought out by undergrad and graduate students, as well as those in job transition, for coaching on how to get into and succeed in the field. You’ve presented at conferences on learning topics such as building teams, leadership development, project management, business acumen, and performance management. But, you were never a Training Manager.

The Work Environment

Your bosses or clients are Training Managers, Directors, or Vice Presidents of Learning & Development. In a matrixed organization, your indirect bosses are leaders of functions such as HR, IT, or specific business units. It is not unusual that, at a minimum, 80% of your bosses have no formal background in training or learning and development. They have a background in sales, finance, marketing or engineering or other not directly applicable fields.

Executives at your organizations say that “learning people need to speak the language of business!” The managers you report to, as described above, have experience in certain facets of the business. They have the title “Manager” and yet, are not trainers, facilitators, e-learning developers, instructional designers, graphic designers, or video producers.

As a consultant, you work with several organizations where the Training/Design Manager, Director of Training, or Learning & Development Manager has few direct reports; several organizations have managers with ZERO direct reports. They are, in essence, program managers who own and train content on a particular topic. But, they have the title Training Manager.

The Interview

interview conversationAfter your years of experience internally at the senior individual contributor and program manager level – but not people manager level – and after building an external consulting business from the ground up, successfully building relationships and increasing profits for those who hire you and for the team you hire, you feel you are ready to lead a team at the manager level on an internal basis.

You apply for several full-time roles with no response. Soon, however, you get an interview for a direct hire manager role through a third party recruiter. The interviewer questions you on decision-making, experience with budgets, managing performance and developing people. She is impressed with your resume and the scale, variety, and complexity of project teams you’ve led and the tough decisions that you have had to make due to stakeholders’ budgets or time constraints. She asks to submit you as a candidate to the position.

Two days later you get a call from the recruiter. “I’m sorry,” she says, “but the company we’re working with says that they really don’t want to hire someone without previous management experience.” You ask, “What about running a business and hiring staff for the past several years? Managing subcontractors and clients nationally and globally? Or serving as President of a non-profit board for a chapter with several hundred members? Or being an internal program designer and project manager for leadership development programs valued at several million dollars annually?”

“That doesn’t count in their eyes,” the recruiter says.

Employers, Talent Development, Recruiters

Recruiters and Talent Development experts promote selling one’s “transferable skills,” those skills that carry across different jobs. (An example of this might be managing a team on a non-profit for 3 years to use skills that would transfer to leading a team in the corporate sector).  Why then, does managing a team of consultants, or leading teams of non-profits, building relationships and executing and outperforming business projections as a small business owner, not transfer over to “counting” toward managerial skills?

You as an experienced professional count, as do the many others like you. You count, and you are out there, applying for managerial jobs. Perhaps the definition of what “counts” as managerial experience needs to be expanded. If a successful Sales Representative can become a Training Manager with no training background, then an experienced learning professional who has written, trained, facilitated, led teams, and  project-managed hundreds of workshops, and demonstrated people leadership in several places surely deserves an equal opportunity to be a Training Manager, right?

“That doesn’t count in their eyes,” you were told. Your reply might well be, “Oh, then it’s not the kind of place for me to seek work.” The search for a place to fully utilize your talents, leadership, business, and management – and of course, training – skills continues.

A Hopeful Success

“How did you finally land your job back in corporate as a Training Manager?” You ask a colleague and friend. “I’ve been thinking about the same thing, but I keep hearing I don’t have the ‘management experience.’ I know you have a similar background; how did you do it?”

Your colleague sighs, “Oh. It was not easy and I heard the same thing you’re hearing – it took me two years. Really, it came down to someone giving me a chance. I have a small team and I still get to dig in and do the work.”

You are happy for your colleague; her perseverance has paid off after a long wait. She has also gotten an opportunity to work for a leader who believes in developing others.

She is a Training Manager. You can be too, with the right organization, willing to look past the title on the resume, and talk to the person who’s lived it.

The Office is Closed Today

The new year is almost here. Have you loaded your organization’s annual holidays into your calendar yet? Of course you have. This next question is a bit more challenging. How does your organization work with contingent staff when it comes to holidays where the office is closed?

office chair.jpg

At first glance, the answer may appear obvious; everybody knows what days organizations are typically closed, right?

Not so fast. Here are some additional tips to ensure your organization and your external staff are on the same page for the holidays:

  • Contingent staff do not typically get paid for holiday time. Does your project budget allow for contingent staff to work 40 hours during a holiday week if so desired, or do you estimate billable project hours based on the office being closed one day (or more) that week?
  • Do you need your contractor to put in 40 hours during the holiday week, due to project constraints? When do you set this expectation?
  • Does your project timeline factor in access to key employees during a holiday season? For example, will your contract staff be able to hold meetings or get information from people if half the office is gone the Friday before Memorial Day?
  • Do you know what your contractor’s holiday plans are, and how they may impact the project? What expectations do you set for getting this information in advance?
  • Who at your office is responsible for ensuring that contractors know which days your office is closed?
  • Does your company have additional days where the office is closed that may not be as common in other industries? For example, a consultant I know once showed up for work at a large global organization on Good Friday; she had no idea the organization was closed that day!

At the end of the day, it is important that the project owner and the contingent staff are clear about the expectations of availability before, during, and after the holiday(s).

Contractors do not typically get paid for holidays as they are not working, but may assume they can still work 40 hours that week. You may be assuming they will not bill 40 hours that week. To avoid disappointment in an otherwise fabulous organization-consultant relationship, have the conversation before the day the office is closed.

Are You the Buyer or the Seller?

handshake

You’re both at the table. The small talk has begun. One of you is hiring for an open position, the other is seeking to find a job. If we think in terms of consumerism, which one of you is the buyer in this situation? Which the seller?

Let’s examine this from both perspectives. In today’s economy, one might say that it’s a “buyer’s market.” We’ve heard stories about there being more homes for sale than people out looking to buy, and retailers slashing prices. And in the job market, there are fewer jobs than there are people seeking those jobs. But still, at the interview table, who is the buyer, and who is the seller?

The answer? Both of you.

What are You Buying and Selling?

The Hiring Organization:

  • You are buying talent. You’ve done your homework and have prepared your job description based on desired competencies. Now you’ve got to buy the skills and characteristics needed to fill the role. You are buying execution – a person who can get the job done and help your organization meet its bottom line.
  • You are selling your entire organization. You are selling that your organization is the place to work and will be inclusive of the applicant’s values. Your offer entails a compensation/benefit package and career growth opportunities built to recruit & retain new employees.

The Job Seeker:

  • You are buying a job. You are buying a role that challenges you and provides you a salary. You are buying a “home” that you may spend more time in than the home you rent or pay a mortgage on. You are buying a boss you can relate to, a team you can work with, and an organization whose mission and values you consent to.
  • You are selling your skills and your experiences. You are selling the knowledge you’ve gained from school, work, and life. You are selling a fresh perspective and your willingness to join or lead the team to get the job done.

It’s a Buyer’s Market
You’re still at the table. You’re having the conversation, a mutual exchange of questions and answers as you discover what you each have to offer. Just remember, it’s a buyer’s market. And you’re both buyers.

We Can Learn Much from Our Children about Interviewing

Recently, I had the enjoyable experience of baking holiday cookies with my 6 year old son. Logan announced happily that he was my “assistant chef at the cookie factory” and that he is “much better than last year, because now I can do everything but crack the eggs.” Logan described his ability to measure, double a recipe, and stir large amounts of ingredients.

Within the hour, Logan decided to promote himself to governor of Minnesota, where we live. He introduced himself to me, and announced that he was “inspecting all businesses in Minnesota, to see if they are doing ok,” and then proceeded to make sure that I had clean hands, a clean oven, and then went to check on his father who was working on a remodeling project in our home. He promptly announced that his father was building a larger cookie factory, and that he better clean up his tools so no one at the cookie factory gets hurt.

The interviewing part comes in next. Logan announced that it was time for elections. “Oh, are you running for governor again?”, I asked. “Nope. I already did that job. Now I am going to be president of the United States!” With a big smile, I asked, “Well, I am glad to see you’ve got ambition, Governor Logan. Tell me, why do you think people should vote for you?”

Logan’s immediate reply made my mouth fall open, as it’s smooth and authentic delivery was something many adults strive for in the interview process. Logan declared, “Well, I think people should vote for me because I am nice to everyone, and I know how to help them with their jobs and their houses. Also, I used to work in a cookie factory, so I can bake cookies for everyone and they will have something good to eat.” I laughed out loud, looked at my husband and said, “Well, that sounds better than a lot of reasons I’ve heard to vote for someone.”

The conversation ran through my head several times, and I reflected that what Logan had done was successfully navigate through an interview! Here are some lessons that resonated from Logan’s conversation with me:

1. Tell the Story:
Logan was able to tell a story about why he was visiting the “cookie factory”, and what his job was as governor, in addition to why he should be elected President. What is your story? Why do you want the job you are applying for right now? Recently I asked a friend why she was interviewing for a job with a healthcare company. She told me a story of how as a child, she was often ill, and remembered all of the paperwork and appointments her parents went to, and that they were often confused about payments and procedures. She determined that she wanted to work in healthcare “to help others feel more comfortable about their health situations.” What a great story to share on an interview!

2. Know What You Have to Offer:
Logan simply stated what he could offer: being nice to people, help with businesses, and cookies. When going on an interview, how prepared are you to discuss your strengths, what you are good at, and what you can offer the prospective employer? It is more than knowing you can make cookies; it is knowing that you can offer a tangible result, such as, “people will have something good to eat.”

3. Connect Your Experiences:
Logan was able to tie in a seemingly unrelated job of his work at the cookie factory with a way to use those skills in his new role as President. These days, the average person has 10 careers over a lifetime, and it is likely that they may be from different industries or using opposite skill sets. How can you tie the lessons learned in each of your work experiences, so they may add to your story? How do those experiences help you do a better job today?

4. Be Genuine:
The enthusiasm Logan shared for his ambition to be President, complete with his belief that he was right for the job could only bring a smile to an interviewer’s face. An interview is a conversation with another person about what you would like to do as an employee or consultant in the organization. Being able to answer the question, “Why should I hire you?” by using tips 1-3 above will go a long way in getting a potential employer to see how you are unique from other candidates.

While Logan has never really worked in a cookie factory, nor served as governor, I have faith that his ability to communicate his skills and ideas at age 6 will serve him well into adulthood.

Suddenly, I am hungry for a cookie.

You Must Be…

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is an adage many in the United States grew up hearing from parents, teachers, and other community members.

Simply put, it means that one should not assume to know something about a person, place, or thing just by appearances. As business professionals, as parents, as community members, how would you give feedback to the person making assumptions in each of the stories below?

Consider a situation involving a car accident. A young college student and her boyfriend were driving home from the beach when they were struck from behind by another vehicle while waiting at a red light. According to state law, both vehicles pulled into a nearby parking lot and waited for law enforcement to arrive.

The officer on the scene approached the young couple and the older woman. Turning to the young couple, the officer asked, “How fast were you going when you hit this lady?” The couple was forced to explain twice that they had NOT been drinking, and were, in fact, struck from behind by the other woman. The woman drove a high priced car and was dressed to attend a wedding, and the young couple were wearing bathing suits.

Assumption: Because the couple is young, drive an older car, and are in bathing suits, they must be the cause of the accident, not the well-dressed older woman in the Cadillac?

Another situation involves the real estate industry. A couple had purchased a new home, but had to wait to move in until the Parade of Homes (a home tour show that lets prospective buyers preview houses built by a variety of builders) was over, and people were done viewing their new home. Two weeks prior to moving into the home, as the couple was packing, and suddenly realized that they had no idea what window treatments in their new home would be like. They drove to their soon-to-be new home without bothering to change clothes. (They were wearing their old jeans and T-shirts.)

Upon entry to their new home, the couple greeted the realtor who was showing the home to prospective buyers. When the realtor finished speaking with another couple, she turned to the soon-to-be owners and said, “Hi there. We have great floor plans here, and we can definitely show you smaller, more affordable options to better suit your budget!” The couple took delight in letting the realtor know that indeed, they were not interested in smaller houses as they were the new owners of this particular house.

Assumption: Because of the clothes the couple was wearing, they must not be able to afford such a house?

Let’s bring assumptions to the job search. What do you say to the recruiter who, upon hearing you speak, asks, “Where are you from?” You may say, “Oh, I live in Minnesota, but I am originally from Wisconsin.” The recruiter says, “No, really? With a name like yours and a voice that sounds like yours, I figured…you must be from somewhere else.” Does the person tell the recruiter that he/she was named after a parent’s dear friend, and that the voice sounds that way due to a hearing loss, which often affects the voice?

Assumption: A person with a name that is most commonly associated with Spanish or French speaking cultures and also has a voice that doesn’t sound “midwestern”, must be “from somewhere else”?

Please send your comments and feedback regarding each of the above scenarios. What are your thoughts about how we can solicit professionals to practice the art of inquiry before assumption? How do we monitor ourselves? What do you do when you hear yourself or another thinking or saying, “You must be…” about someone else?

The Early Bird Gets the…Job?

Creating a well-written resume and cover letter are not the only tools needed to get noticed by recruiters today. These days, there may be hundreds of applications for a single opening. Recruiters and hiring managers often cannot review each application that comes through the door. Job search sites such as Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Careerbuilder.com are displaying a new trend.

You may be surprised to find out that some jobs are posted to a job search site for mere hours before expiring. Employers set a limit at gathering the first X amount of resumes that meet basic qualification criteria, and once they do, the job requisition is closed down to further applicants. On a recent interview, I was told that there had been 155 applicants to the job in the first three days, and only EIGHT people were selected to interview. How can job applicants beat this cutoff for applications?

1.) Apply right away to jobs that pique your interest and match your skills. This may seem like common sense, but I know several colleagues who have waited three, four, even seven days to post for a job while they “think about how to best approach the position.” By this time, the job may be removed from postings.

2.) Set up email alerts that send an email to your inbox each time there are jobs matching your profile. This way, you will get the information quickly, and can respond promptly.

3.) Not all job postings go to the big job search engines. If there are specific companies that you are targeting, make it a practice to check those websites two or three times a week to see if new listings are posted. Some company websites also have email alert capabilities.

4.) Get your internal referrals lined up ahead of time. For example, if you have a friend who will be an employee referral for you at ABC Corporation, get his/her information ahead of time, so that when a job opens up in your area, you can apply right away and use the employee referral. Many times, colleagues reach out to their internal contacts when they see a job posting, asking that person if they can use him/her as a referral; this may cause a 24-48 hour delay if the person is not able to respond right away.

There is no substitute for a well-written resume and cover letter. The same rules still apply there; grammar, spelling, and a clear picture of the person’s qualifications are necessary. However, today’s job market proves the old adage correct: the early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the interview that could lead to a job.