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300: How to Speak Using Your Perfect Voice with Roger Love

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Celebrity voice coach Roger Love shares the keys that make your voice sound more engaging, authentic, confident, and powerful.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you should put the music back into your speaking voice
  2. One big vocal mistake you might be making – and how to fix it
  3. How to modulate your voice to bring across a clearer message

About Roger

Roger Love is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on voice. No other vocal coach in history has been more commercially successful in both the speaking and singing fields. Roger has vocally produced more than 150 million CD sales worldwide and written four top-selling books. Roger coaches singers such as Gwen Stefani, John Mayer, and Selena Gomez, as well as speakers like Anthony Robbins, and Simon Sinek. He also coaches screen personalities such as Bradley Cooper, Will Ferrell, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Bridges, Angelina Jolie, and Joaquin Phoenix. Roger was the vocal coach to the mega-hit TV show GLEE, and vocal coached the Academy Award winning films, Walk The Line and Crazy Heart. Roger is the President of Voiceplace, an interactive media company that specializes in voice-related content for educational and entertainment purposes.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Roger Love Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Roger, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Roger Love
Good morning, Pete. How are you today?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m so good. I’m so good. How are you?

Roger Love
I’m excited about our interview and things that we’re going to discover and uncover.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. I think there’s going to be so much good stuff. You’ve made a huge impact on me and how I think about speaking, so it’s a delight to have you on for episode 300.

Roger Love
Congratulations.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you, yes. Well, to kick it off first of all, to the extent that you’re able to disclose, I think everyone loves a good sort of behind the scenes celebrity tale. You’ve worked with folks like Angelina Jolie, Selena Gomez, Tony Robbins. There’s a distinctive voice, Tony Robbins.

I’d love it if you could share kind of a fun story behind the scenes in terms of you’re doing some voice stuff with a famous person and how sometimes that unfolds in interesting ways.

Roger Love
Well, because I don’t kiss and tell, let me just redirect that question to sharing one of the insights that I’ve learned over the years by working gratefully with some of the most incredible talents in the world, in the movie business, and in the music business, and entrepreneurs, and in the financial markets.

When I work with these superstars, I just – when I started I was thinking, “Oh, they’re of course gods. They’re better than Greek gods because Greek gods, they’re so far away. Here they are walking down Hollywood Boulevard. Here they are in my studio.” These are gods that you can even get close to, but still gods.

As I started working with them more and more and more, I realized that we’re all the same, that these people that are applauded for being the greatest actors or the greatest singers or the greatest spokespeople, they’re normal, so normal just like all of us.

They’ve worked to fight against their normal tendencies of being lazy or being tired or sleeping in and they have found something about their own talent that they’ve honed and that’s great because they’ve worked their butts off. But the rest of them, the rest of their attributes, the rest of their thoughts, the rest of their feelings, it’s exactly the same as you and I.

The lesson isn’t what funny story do I have; the lesson is when you’re around someone who is a famous singer, you should realize it’s possible. You could be a famous singer. When you’re around someone who’s a bestselling author, you should realize, “Wow, somebody’s got to write those books,” might as well be you.

When you’re around all of these people that are at the top of the game, what I learned was to be empowered by their success and realize that somebody has to do it and maybe we’re next.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, inspiring. Thank you. I’d love to dig into a bit of your wisdom when it comes to the voice and it’s impact and how to enhance it, so it’s all the better. Could you orient us a little bit? You say that sometimes it’s possible for a voice to ruin one’s life, what do you mean by that?

Roger Love
I mean that we think we’re the voice that we were born with and the sounds that are coming out of our mouths, well, those are the ones that Mother Nature gave us, so those are the ones we’re supposed to use. But the truth is as we are just imitating as we grow up the sounds of whoever was in the house and who we were listening to.

If my mother spoke really soft and airy, then I learn to speak really soft and airy. If my father spoke really nasal, “Hi Roger,” then I learned to speak really nasal. If my father or my nanny spoke really fast, then I imitated it and I learned to speak fast.

People find themselves adults with the voices that they have and they think, “Well, this is all I’ve got to communicate with,” but I start from ground zero. I say, “You weren’t born with that voice. Here’s what your voice could be.”

Here’s why you need to change it because those sounds that are coming out of your mouth, those sounds that kind of sound like your mother or kind of sound like your father or kind of sound like the nanny, those sounds may be not showcasing the best of who you are, how smart you are, how capable you are, how funny you are, how romantic you are.

It’s time to realize that we can create a new voice, which makes us influential, which makes people want to hear us, which makes people want to do business with us, which makes people want to be in relationships with us. We have a blank slate and now’s the time to figure out how we need to sound to actually have a better life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s compelling. I’m really resonating with your take on the environment and how it shapes your voice. Just recently – we have a new baby. Yay!

Roger Love
Congratulations.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Go figure, we’ve been talking a lot quieter around the house. When babies are sleeping, you don’t want to interrupt it.

Then had a couple of buddies over – shout out to Luke and Ann, it was good to have you – we’re chatting and they were just chatting at sort of their normal friend volume in my living room and I was like, “Oh man, I kind of forgot.” I used to talk with them at this level all the time, but now I’m a little uncomfortable, like, “Guys, this is a little loud. The baby’s not too far away.”

There you have it. I’m being shaped right then and there with my environment, which can change as the context changes.

Roger Love
Exactly right. Look, how do we talk to dogs? I come home and I’m like, “Oh, Chichi, I love my little baby. How are you?” I raise my pitch as if I was eight years old. I talk to the dog in these, “Oh, you’re so beautiful,” like this. The dog responds, so how do I talk to the dog the next day? “Oh Chichi, you’re so beautiful.” Then we get into a pattern. I talk to the dog like that; the dog comes and licks my face.

Well, that’s what’s happening in life. We fall into these patterns of sounds coming out of our mouths and people reacting.

But what science has finally proven, and thank goodness because I’ve been saying this for about 40 years, science has finally proven that the only way that people believe you, like you, and want to spend time with you is based on the sound of your voice. It’s not the words you use. It’s not your facial expressions.

Science now proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you want to connect with people, if you want to be in a relationship with them, if you want to do business with them, if you want them to believe you, it’s the sound of your voice: the pitch, pace, tone, melody, and volume. Forget about the words. Forget about your arm gestures. Focus on the way that you sound.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I really want to dig into some of the particulars for what makes someone sound influential or what makes someone sound like someone they want to hear speak. But first maybe we’ll orient to a broader question, so you’ve got a program called The Perfect Voice, which I bought and liked. Could you sort of define what do you mean by a perfect voice?

Roger Love
A perfect voice is a voice that moves other people emotionally. The sounds that come out of you make people feel things because if they feel things, that’s how you become connected to them. A perfect voice is a voice that makes people feel things. A perfect voice is a voice that showcases the very best of who you actually are, authentically who you are.

Listen to your voicemail message and maybe yours is better than most people, but most people hate their voicemail message. That voice when you record it, you basically are settling with it. You record it over and over and over and you listen back and you’re like, “Ach, who is that person on the voicemail message?” You record it and you record it or you got a new phone and you do the same thing.

You end up settling with your voicemail message because you don’t like the sound of it and yet that’s the sound that everyone else is listening to. I say that the voice you’re using may be not showcasing the best of who you are. Perfect voice does that, moves people emotionally and it shows people how special you really are.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hit a quick piece, which might be an objection for some listeners in terms of if you’re kind of deliberately using our voice in a way to make people feel things, is that considered potentially inauthentic.

I know actors do it all the time. That’s their job. You’re supposed to feel amused, entertained, this is kind of funny or sad, like, “Oh man, this is heavy.” If we’re doing that in our day-to-day lives is that like manipulative or icky or bad in some way?

Roger Love
That’s a fantastic question. Okay, to answer that, let me tell you a little bit how the brain works. When I speak to you, the sound goes into your ears and the first part of the brain that it gets to is called the amygdala. The amygdala is like this amazing receptionist that you have at your office.

The amygdala is only allowed to let one set of things through to get to the boss, to get to you, to get to the brain, the main part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. Sound comes in and the amygdala listens to that sound and it decides whether it’s emotional or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so just binary. It’s either emotional or it’s emotionless.

Roger Love
It’s either emotional or it’s logical.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Roger Love
The first part of the brain, the amygdala, says, “Is this emotional?” If it is, it allows it to pass through and go to the prefrontal cortex, which is the hard drive of your brain where everything is stored, where everything is processed, where the brain can really think about it and make decisions based on it.

But it can’t get to the brain unless it passes through the amygdala. This whole idea of using words, logic, to try to get into someone’s brain so that they hear you and think about you and remember you, that’s all baloney now. Now the only way you can do it is if you can get in emotionally.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m with you there. It’s sort of like from the manipulation question there, it’s like you are either registering emotionally or you’re not and so it’s – I guess as I’m processing through this logically – I’m thinking it’s like well, is it – I guess it’s sort of like your intent and it’s sort of like what you’re doing with this tool that is your voice.

It’s like a sword. Are you using it for surgery or to lop off someone’s head? It’s a power that is entering your hands when you’re aware of it.

Roger Love
Here’s how you should think of it as not at all negative. An actor is playing a character so that character by nature is not authentic. That’s not who Bradley Cooper is when he’s playing this country singer in the new film coming out September 28th

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Roger Love
-called A Star is Born. Bradley is playing a country singer, but we know he’s Bradley Cooper, so he’s acting. You’re equating that when someone is acting or trying to make you feel something that that’s not them.

But I’m explaining that I help people find their authentic selves, who they really are, what their core values are, what they really believe, what they want, what their dreams are, what they’re passions are. Then I help people voice those. I’m actually helping showcase who you really are. There’s no lies. There’s no manipulation. I’m giving people the opportunity to showcase the best of themselves and have people hear them that way.

How could there be any negative attached to that? I’m not doing brainwash. I’m helping each person find a voice that showcases how amazing they are and then authentically share that voice with everyone that they speak with.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I dig that and I’m feeling it. In some ways it is more authentic to have your voice reflect the emotions and your desires that are there.

I’ve had some clients who they’re interviewing for a job and then they didn’t get the job. They say, “What happened?” and then interviewer said, “Well, you didn’t really seem that into it.” It’s like, “I’m very much into it.” In a way having a little bit of voice training and attention would be more authentic. It’s like, “Oh, I can tell that you’re into it because your voice is conveying that.”

Roger Love
Absolutely. Absolutely. The goal is to have conversations where you’re open and honest and then the people talking to you feel comfortable because of your authenticity that they’re open and honest. Now you’re communicating on a much more beautiful, truthful, positive level.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, I’m in. Now let’s dig into some of the how here. Specifically for folks who want to be awesome at their jobs, I think that sounding confident, sounding influential, sounding appealing, like, “Oh, I want to hear more from that person,” are things that we all want. How can we go make that happen?

Roger Love
What I learned early on was that there’s no difference between singing and speaking because I literally spent 17 years as a singing coach before I thought for a second that I wanted to work with anyone’s speaking voice.

When I was 16 and a half years old I was already the voice coach for the Beach Boys and the Jacksons and Chicago and Def Leppard and all of these incredible superstar singers and groups. I spent 17 years helping singers open up their mouths and make audiences feel things.

A great singer can make an audience get up and dance on their seats, can make an audience cry and remember the first time they had their heart broken or the first time they broke somebody else’s heart. A great singer I realized was an amazing storyteller.

It wasn’t until 17 years later that people like Tony Robbins and John Gray, and Suzie Orman, and those type of speakers started coming to me, these storytellers and I realized that if I taught them the same things that I was teaching my singers, that I could put the music back into their speaking voices. If I did that, they would have the same way of moving the hundreds of thousands and millions of people that they were just speaking to.

Literally I believe we were all born singing. I believe as babies, I came out and my first sound was this, “Whaaaa.” Long and loud and it was a big sustained note and I was doing great breathing or I wouldn’t have been able to cry that long. I think that was signing. I didn’t come out and do this, “Wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha.” I was singing, “Whaaaa, whaaaa, whaaaa, whaaaa.” Guess what that got me? It got me fed, got me kissed, got me snuggled. I was singing.

Now, as I grew up, I listened to all these people talking and they weren’t talking to me with melodies and volume and sustain. They were talking to me like this, “You good?” “Yeah.” “Good.” “Live? Breathing?” “Yeah, breathing.” They were talking to me in these short little tiny, unmusical phrases, the way that most people speak.

I’m standing behind people at the dry cleaners and I hear people talk like this, “Hey, how are you doing?” “Good.” “How are you doing?” “Great.” “What are you up to?” “Nothing.” “Okay, bye.” Then they get the dry cleaning and go out.

I’m like there’s nothing – that’s the most – I’m not even sure what language they were speaking. I think they were just mumbling nothingness. It had no life in it. It had no music.

Again, my job is to put the music back into your voice, which brings you back to what you were born with, which also makes everybody want to listen to the things that you say.

When people hang on the words that you say because you make them feel things, because you’re a great storyteller, then you always get the job, you always get the raise, you become the head of that company, you always get the gal, you always get the guy that you want because they want to hear you, because they look up to you, because they want to be you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so bringing the music back, how do you do that in practice in terms if the voice is lacking in music and we want to insert the music, what are the key steps?

Roger Love
Awesome. Biggest thing that we do wrong as speakers is we think that we are one note on a piano instead of the fact that we are many, many notes on a piano.

If I think I’m one note on the piano, I talk like this, “Hey Pete, it’s great, great to see you. This is my one note. I stay here all the time. Yeah, I’m going to go out for lunch after this. Hope you have lunch too. This is my one note. Then sometimes I get really, really excited and maybe if I win the lottery, I’m like, ‘Whoa,’ and then I go back down to the one note. This is where I live.”

When most people record themselves and when they listen back, what they don’t know is they’re just using one note, like one little white or one little black note on a keyboard. That’s called monotone. When you use one note, guess what? You are boring, boring, boring, boring. No music in it, absolutely lifeless.

When you talk like this, people get bored with you after about two seconds and they think they know what you’re going to sound like. When they think they know what you’re going to sound like, they think they know what you’re going to say next. Then they just tune you out because they figure they are smarter than you and why waste their time listening to a piano that only has one note.

What we need to do is we need to have more melody. What do I mean by that? Just the same thing as a song. Songs aren’t one note. Songs go up. Now I’m going up. Higher, higher, higher, higher, higher. Now one word, then the next word’s higher, then the next word’s higher, and the next word’s higher. I’m either walking up the melody stairs.

Now I’m walking up, going from low notes to high notes or I’m walking down the melody scale. Now I’m walking down the melody scale, where I’m going from high notes to low notes. I’m either walking up. Now I’m walking up the melody scale, using different notes as if I was a piano. Now I’m going to come down. Now I’m coming down the melody scale, getting lower as I go.

You need to start realizing that unless you’re doing some walking up the steps or walking down the steps, you are monotone and you are boring the heck out of every single person you speak. If you’re monotone, you’re unemotional and they don’t care about what you say.

How simple is it to add melody? Do you have to be a singer to add melody? No. You have to first hear what I’m saying. This is a lot of melody, different notes as if I was a piano going from low to high, to low to high, to low to high, jumping around a little bit as opposed to just staying on one note all the time.

That’s why when I have people do warm up exercises, because in all of my programs I give people a daily warm up thing that they can do in the shower, they can do for ten minutes in the car ride on the way to work.

They basically listen and sing along with me sort of and they open up all of these different notes, all of these highs they didn’t know they had, all of these lows they didn’t know they had. I give people melody by helping them find that melody in the exercises.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. They’re good and helpful and I’ve done them. What I really liked about it, as you were going up and down, there were – it didn’t seem silly. It wasn’t like a clown in any way.

It was sort of normal within the range of yes, this is how normal professionals might speak to one another in terms of we have multiple notes, but none of them are so crazy high and low, it’s like, “You’re weird, dude. What are you doing?”

Roger Love
Exactly right. What people don’t understand is that there is an emotion and a psychological understanding that comes along with certain melodies. Let me explain what I mean. If I go from high to low, you’re going to perceive sadness. “I really like dogs.” “I really like chocolate.”

Pete Mockaitis
What happened to the dog? Did it die?

Roger Love
Yeah. “I really like my wife.” “It’s okay you didn’t get me any presents. It’s my birthday.”

When you go from high to low, you’re making people sad because you sound sad. When you go from low to high, the subconscious thinks, “Boom, this is happy.” “I really love golf. I love chocolate. I love my wife. I love going to the supermarket. I love ice cream” When you go from low to high, it sounds happy. People want to be around happy people.

You don’t realize how much of the time the rest of the world is just going down and making people sad. “I just won the lottery.” “No, you didn’t.” “Oh, yes I did.”

You’re like, “Roger, I don’t go down.” I’m like, “Uh-huh, let me show you. I’ll bet a nickel on that.” Here’s where we were taught from grammar school to go down. We were taught that when we get to a comma or period, we’re supposed to go down. Sally saw the dog, comma, the dog didn’t eat Sally. Now we get to a period. Here comes a comma.

We were taught to actually go down when we get to a comma and period. We were only taught one place, only one little place we could go up, when we got to a question.

Pete Mockaitis
The exclamation point?

Roger Love
No, when we got to a question. “Do you like Sally?” “Do you want to eat green vegetables?” It was okay to go up if it was a question.

We learned to never go up if it wasn’t a question. Well, that is like telling Mozart that he can’t write melodies that go up. Mozart would say, “Heck with you,” and any other composer would say, “Heck with you.” Even from kids we’re taught to just go down at commas and periods.

What do I teach people do to? To go up at commas and periods. Now, I’m speaking and I get to a comma and then I jump back into the rest of my sentence. When I go up at the comma, it tells the person who’s listening that I’m not finished because I haven’t gone down and I’m able to keep their attention a lot longer because I haven’t gone down.

As soon as I go down, they’re like, “He’s done. What are we having for lunch?” Do you see the difference?

Pete Mockaitis
I do. Now, I’m a little concerned though because we have the up associated with a question mark, don’t you even call that up speak, if I do that, well I didn’t demonstrate it very well, but if you do that it can sound like a question even if it’s not and thus folks may interpret you’re not as confident and certain about that thing you just said.

Roger Love
Awesome. Fantastic comment. Up speak is a large interval from the syllable before the last to the last syllable. Up speak would be, “You like your dog?” “You like cats?” “You like yellow?” “Are you crazy?” What I’m asking people to do is to make the smallest interval possible when they go up.

Now I’m speaking to you and I went up but the amount I went up is so little that it doesn’t trigger that question mark in your mind. I’m also asking people just to stay on the same note and never go down. You have two options, stay on the same note when you get to a comma, that immediately eliminates up talk and don’t take gigantic, big interval jumps for the last.

“I love yellow.” No. It’s, “I love yellow.” “I love blue.” “I love green.” If you do small little notes, as if you are on a white key and then you just went to a black one, it doesn’t sound like you’re doing Valley talk or up talk. It just sounds like you have melody and nobody thinks that it’s a question.

Here’s another side. If you go up a little tiny bit when you get to a comma or a period like I just did, if the brain thinks it might be a question, then the listener calls themselves to attention. In other words if you’re talking to someone and your melody goes up just a little, they think you’re asking a question, so they listen harder in case they have to answer.

Actually you’re engaging your audience if you can a little bit make their brain think that maybe it was a question because if it was a question, they’ve got to get ready for an answer. Then they stay with you instead of drifting off into space because you’ve already put them to sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. It’s sort of like when you’re in class from student days and somebody’s like, “Oh, what, oh.” It’s like, “Oh, I’m supposed to be paying attention now because that just happened.” I’m right with you there. There’s that scoop about having multiple notes and not just one. What are some other key things to vary in order to be engaging and influential?

Roger Love
Most people speak with what I call a squeaky hinge and they kind of talk like this, whereas you hear that little edge as if it was a door hinge that didn’t have enough WD-40 on it. It just ehh and then it closes ehh. That’s called a squeaky hinge as I just mentioned.

You’re like, “Roger, people don’t talk like that,” and I’m like, “Oh yes, they do.” Here’s where they do it. They start out a sentence with a certain amount of air and then they get to the end of the sentence and it trails off to that.

They start speaking and, “Hi, this is Roger Love.” They run out of air and then it goes to squeaky hinge. There’s no melody. There’s no volume. There’s no thickness in it.

It wastes the last words of every sentence you speak so that people are actually just hearing this, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to tell you something amazing. You’ll never believe what happened to me. I just ehh.” “Come on over tonight. We’re having the most amazing dinner. I’ll be servicing ehh.” You waste it. It’s like they don’t even hear what the words are in the sentences.

I believe that that squeaky hinge is one of the worst sounds you can possibly make, gives you no power, no influence, no melody, makes you sound completely unmusical. Here’s how to fix it so that every word comes out, every word has a note, every word has some volume.

Most people are breathing with their stomach locked in one position. They take a breath – most people first start by raising their chest and shoulders. They raise their chest and shoulders and that’s called accessory breathing. Then when they’re talking, their shoulders kind of fall back down.

But we learned that you have to do a thing called diaphragmatic breathing, which means that you’re supposed to get more air into your lungs. The way you do that is by breathing in through your nose first because breathing in through the mouth makes your vocal cords and your mouth dry, but breathing in through the nose makes everything moist.

You breathe in through the nose. You do not raise your chest and shoulders and you pretend like you have a balloon in your tummy where your belly button is. I take a breath in through my nose and I let my stomach come forward a little as if I was a balloon and that’s where the air was going.

I breathe in through my nose, I let my stomach come forward and then when I speak my stomach slowly comes in like an accelerator pedal on a car, which helps the car go faster or slower. My stomach coming out and then coming back in helps regulate how air gets pushed out of my mouth.

Most people’s stomachs are stationary. When their stomachs are stationary, they’re actually holding their breath when they talk. It’s like you’re at the bottom of a mountain, you’re driving a car and you don’t have your foot on the accelerator pedal, so you’re just stuck at the bottom of the mountain because the car won’t go up.

I teach people to breathe through their nose, pretend they have a balloon in their stomachs, then only speak while their stomach is coming back in. That sends the right amount of air to the vocal cords, the right amount of air out of the mouth. It not only fixes the squeaky hinge sounds, but it gives you more volume and more melody and more tone quality. It stops you from being nasal as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And you can sustain it longer as opposed to I’m out of breath from the shallow long accessory place as opposed to going for the longer stretches deep down in the diaphragm.

Roger Love
Exactly right. I’m saying it’s fine to take breaths, but you’re wasting most of the air because you’re not actually getting your lungs filled with air. The only way to do that is to do diaphragmatic breathing, stop raising your chest and shoulders and that changes the way air comes in, but it also makes your voice a million times better.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Can you talk a little bit about the volume and pacing considerations? You talked about the message that you send when you’re going down or you’re going up. I’d like to get your take, what message does it send when you’re operating at a high versus low volume as well as when you’re operating at a fast versus slow pace?

Roger Love
Perfect. Most people have equated volume with anger. If you come to me and I’m your psychologist, you’ve come to me for counseling and I’m like, “Pete, you really have to stop eating chocolate because chocolate is blah, blah, blah.” I talk really airy and soft. I’m just trying to make you think that I’m here for you and that I’m a good listener and that there’s no anger or I’m not judging you so I have this really soft voice.

The problem is is that – and if I get louder, “Pete, I said don’t eat chocolate.” You’re like, “Roger, I’m sorry. What are you so mad at? Chocolate tastes good.” We equate volume with anger, so people don’t speak that loudly because they’re afraid of sounding like they’re angry all the time. When they do speak louder, people are like, “Hey, are you mad at me?” or, “Stop yelling at me,” so the other people are afraid of them.
Here’s what I want to teach. We don’t speak loudly enough. We need to make the sound come out of our mouths and go far enough away from our mouths that that sound actually vibrates the bodies of the people we’re talking to. This is all scientifically proven.

It isn’t just me trying to get my sound in their ears. I’m trying to make a sound and have sound come out of my mouth in the form of invisible sound waves and have those sound waves vibrate the bodies of the people that you’re talking to.

I can’t do that at this volume here where it’s like I’m just talking to myself because the sound doesn’t come out far enough from me to vibrate anybody, to connect with anyone, and to make anyone feel that vibration. I say people need to speak louder.

Here’s what I’m going to add to volume so that no one thinks you’re angry. If you add melody to volume, it defuses all sounds of anger. If I say, “Don’t eat the chocolate,” sounds angry. No melody. Monotone. One note. But if I say, “Pete, don’t eat the chocolate. Don’t eat the chocolate. We’ll find something else. Let’s go eat carrots. You don’t need to eat the chocolate,” it immediately diffuses.

I’m not mad because if I have melody, all the volume in the world doesn’t make me sound like I’m a mean, angry ogre.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, like an opera singer doesn’t sound angry. They sound any number of emotions.

Roger Love
Yeah. I’m saying be louder because you want to connect with people and you want to vibrate their bodies, but you have to add melody. You’ve got to be walking up the steps. You’ve got to not be doing all of the squeaky hinge. Volume is super important or you’re actually making people think that you’re talking to yourself instead of talking to them.

Pete, I say that the voice is not for you. Your voice is a gift that you’re supposed to give away. How do I know that? Because I can close my mouth and talk to myself all I want without making any noise. I can talk to myself internally. That’s my internal voice.

But when I open my mouth, what happens to the sound? It goes away from me. It’s not for me. If it was my gift, it was coming towards me. The sound actually goes away. I say it’s a gift. Wrap it up nicely, make it have some volume, put a bow on it, which is melody, and give it away instead of holding it inside. When you want to talk to yourself, close your mouth and talk all you want.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m sold. That’s a good point there with volume that you can bring it and not be angry if there’s some melody in the mix. I also want to hear your take on pacing, times that we go faster or slower.

Roger Love
Great. When people speak really slowly, the listener believes that that person’s brain is not running at full capacity because the slowness of it makes the other person listening subconsciously feel that that person is actually less intelligent because they’re not sure of what they want to say and the words are not streaming out.

When you speak too slowly, you run the risk of other people, not only being bored as heck because they don’t have all day for you to get to the ends of your sentences, but they actually think you’re less intelligent.

Also, when you speak really slowly to someone, they’re thinking that you think they’re stupid, like, “I said two plus two isn’t six,” and you’re like, “Yeah, I know it’s not six.” “Okay, I’m going to say this slowly because you’re a dumb-dumb and I’m really going to explain this.” When you talk slowly to people, it also gives them the feeling that you don’t trust in their intelligence.

It makes you seem kind of dumb and it puts the perception on them that you think that they’re not smart enough to follow along with you at a good pace.

On the contrary, when you speak really, really fast, the subconscious of the listener thinks that you’re hiding things because when you speak really, really fast like that it’s like you’re hiding words and you can’t catch all the words.

It’s almost like a car salesman who somehow always manages to get me to sign to pay extra for black cars when I don’t know why I should pay extra for black cars, but I didn’t stop him in the middle of a sentence because I didn’t want him to think that I was a dummy.

When you speak fast, you make the impression that you’re trying to sell someone something they feel like you’re hiding something in all those words. Plus, when you speak fast, they’re so busy trying to just figure out what word you said after the other, after the other because there’s so many words that they don’t ever have a chance to jump in and say what they think.

They also feel left out when you talk really, really fast because there’s no place for them to insert how they feel back. They feel it’s a one-sided conversation with a salesman who’s hiding something.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, not good, not good. I’m hearing that it’s about being not too slow and not too fast. Then within that is there a benefit to really having some variety between moderately slow and moderately fast and do you have even a words per minute number in mind?

Roger Love
What I do is you’re not supposed to always speak at one pace. When you’re sad, every moment feels painful because of a loss and you speak slower and that slowness is associated with sorrow and negative things.

But happiness is associated with your pulse got elevated and you really did win the lottery, so when you’re happy or talking about happy things, you’re supposed to speak faster. When you’re sad, you’re supposed to speak lower.

When you’re grateful, you want that moment to last forever, so the pace changes again when you’re grateful. You hold out the word so much longer because you want to stay in this grateful place forever.

What I’m saying is I literally in all of the things that I teach, I say, “Okay, here, you want to be a great storyteller. This part of the story is all of these happy, wonderful, amazing things, so you’re going to speak a little faster when you’re talking through this part of the story. Here, this part of the story is sadder, and I want you to slow down.”

I literally help people figure out how to be great storytellers by unconsciously – by being unconsciously competent and mixing up all of it. There isn’t one melody that’s perfect all the time. There isn’t one pacing that’s popular all the time. There isn’t one volume that’s all the time.

It’s getting to know your voice like an instrument so that when you’re happy, you have the volume and you have the ability to speak faster, and you have all the highs and the lows, which you need for beautiful melodies and sad melodies. It literally is about learning how to train your voice like an instrument and then your voice will give you subconsciously the right sounds when you speak.

Pete Mockaitis
I really dig that. I’m thinking now, I can’t help but do so. We’re on a podcast and often my voice is being recorded on the podcast.

I think frequently sometimes I think, “Oh, I talk to fast.” But at the same time it’s like, well, I’m just so excited about the really cool stuff we’re discovering. It is natural fast-action stuff. Then occasionally it will slow down and I think that’s often when it’s in the worlds in which it’s like, “Whoa, you just said something that was profound and is worth a greater level of thought.” I think that’s just right to be speaking fast a lot because I’m excited a lot.

Roger Love
I love it and you’re good at that. I hear the variety. Here’s a really simple way to fix whether you’re speaking too fast or too slowly.

Most people don’t put enough commas in their sentences. When they get to a comma, they don’t take a big enough breath and they don’t leave enough silence in that comma.

Remember when a composer writes music, they not only write the notes in, but they write the rests in as well. They write where they want the music to be silent. So “Bah, bah, bah, bam, bah, bah, bah, bam, bah, bah, bah, bam,” is different than “Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba,” right? The silent places are just as important.

Why? Because when you speak and you get to a comma and you’re silent, the listeners have a chance to process what you just said. Because most people don’t wait long enough in the silence of the pauses and they just jump in to the next part of the sentence and then they jump into the next part of the sentence.

Or they do something even worse, they get to where they’re supposed to put a comma and instead of being silent, they do “Um,” or they put a, “Like,” or, “Uh,” and there’s still noise, so the person can’t think about what you just said.

The power of the pause, the power of silence allows the person to process what you just said and feel something. If you speak fast but still get to the commas and leave a little extra time, they still have enough time to process what you said. Let me show you.

“I really yellow because yellow is just the color of sunflowers.” “I really like red because red is the color of the new sports car I want.” It’s that people speak fast don’t stop at the commas and then jump right back into the sentence, that’s what’s screwing them up.

If I would have said, “I really like yellow because is the color of sunflowers and I really like red because red is the color of the new sports car I want to buy,” you don’t know whether you’re still – I’m trying to still – you’re thinking, “Sunflower, did he say sunflower? Red, did he say red? Did he say he already bought the car? Did he say he’s going to buy it? I don’t know. There’s too much to think about.”

But I did the same speed once I took a comma, “I really like yellow because yellow is the color of sunflowers. And I really like red because red is the color of the next sports car that I’m going to buy,” so add more commas. Even if you speak too fast or too slow, it kind of levels it all out so they still get the chance to hear and think about what you said, process what you said and feel something by it.

Pete Mockaitis
Roger, that’s great stuff. Tell me, is there anything else you really want to make sure to emphasize before we shift gears and hear rapid fire about some of your favorite things?

Roger Love
I just want people to realize that they’ve thought about so many other things. They keep going to the gym to become more attractive or losing weight. They keep changing their hairstyle. They keep buying new clothes. They keep going to seminars to learn better words or how to be more organized.

What they put at the end of the list is the sound of their voice because the sounds of their voices make them sound smarter than any book. The sounds of their voices make them sound more beautiful than any new hairstyle. The sound of their voices make them sound more intelligent than any new planner that they got.

My advice at this point in the conversation is for people to realize that voice is the secret weapon.

And doctors and dentists who don’t understand bedside manner because they haven’t found the right voice. Lawyers that are not winning their cases because they haven’t found the right voice to influence the judge and the jury.

People that are alone in their lives because they haven’t found voices that actually show them to be honest, and authentic and romantic and loving and caring and that their voices are stopping people from loving them and wanting to be in relationships with them.

That it’s time that we thought about voice as the number one most powerful communication tool you have and put all the rest of the stuff in B, C, and D levels behind thinking is my voice actually ruining my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Roger Love
What you focus on, you find and you how you sound is how people perceive you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Roger Love
Some of my absolutely favorite research happened within the last six months. They discovered that people lie with their facial expressions because if you’re sad, you can still put a smile on your face and talk to someone and pretend that you’re happy.

Now all of the studies say that physiology doesn’t matter unless you’re doing diaphragmatic breathing and using your body like a power plant, like an engine to make better sound. Now that the words fall almost into fourth position behind the sound of your voice, the sound of your voice, the sound of your voice, and then maybe some words.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Roger Love
Wow, my favorite book of all time is called The Missing Piece and the Big O. It’s a Shel Silverstein book. It’s about a wedge, actually a shape, who wants to fit in.

Pete Mockaitis
Good. Thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Roger Love
I think one of the most amazing tools we all have is our smartphones because I force people to record themselves speaking every week, so that we can once and for all hear the way we sound then start to make some changes so that we hear ourselves better and feel better about ourselves and other people hear us better.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. How about a favorite habit?

Roger Love
Exercising when you don’t want to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks as you’re teaching this stuff?

Roger Love
That there’s no difference between speaking and singing. And that the people who are the most influential people in the world and the people who are making a difference are the storytellers, those people that are making sounds, talking through stories and making people feel things.

If you want to be influential, powerful, if you want to live up to your greatest potential, become a storyteller and let people be moved by the stories that come out of your mouth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. If folks want to learn more or get in touch with you, where would you point them?

Roger Love
I’d point them to RogerLove, R-O-G-E-R-L-O-V-E, .com. We have free videos for you, tons of free content if you want to learn how to speak better, which you do, or if you want to learn how to sing better.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or a call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Roger Love
Make everyone at your job, especially the people above you position-wise, want to be more like you. If you sound happy, having a lot of melody, using volume, the people around you are like, “Wow, Pete, you’re so happy. Maybe I should be happier.” If you sound grateful, holding out the words, having a little bit more air when you’re supposed to, then the people around you think, “Wow, Pete’s so grateful. I should be more grateful.”

They think, “Pete is just so happy and so grateful and he makes me feel things. I want to be more like Pete.” You’ll be amazed at how much success you have in every aspect of your life when people want to be around you, they want to listen to you, and they want to be more like you.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Roger, thank you so much for taking this time. This has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the luck and success as you are transforming the world and these voices in it.

Roger Love
Pete, thank you so much for allowing me to spend time with you and great success to you and all of the things that you are doing to make the world sound better and think better, and be more successful.

299: How to Rock an Interview with Pamela Skillings

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Founder of Big Interview, Pam Skillings, breaks down what makes an interview successful and how to best up your interview game.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to prepare without over preparing
  2. The best answers to the most commonly-occurring interview questions
  3. Your secret weapon for any interview

About Pam

Pamela Skillings is an author, entrepreneur, and career coach who  specializes in helping people find success and fulfillment in their dream careers. Her company, Skillful Communications, provides career coaching and training for individuals and training and development consulting for companies and organizations. Big Interview is her online job interview training system that helps clients ace their interviews and land big job offers.

She is also the author of Escape from Corporate America: A Practical Guide to Creating the Career of Your Dreams (Random House) and has been featured as a career expert by The New York Times, Newsweek, ABC News, and other media outlets . Additionally, she is an adjunct professor at New York University and a contributing columnist for About.com and other publications.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Pam Skillings Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Pam, thank you so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Pam Skillings
Thanks for inviting me. I’m excited to chat today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited too. I understand you also have some excitement and enthusiasm for a particular dinosaur. What’s the story here?

Pam Skillings
Well, I have a five-year-old. As you can imagine, that’s where my love of dinosaurs has come from. When you asked me for a fun fact, I thought not too many people are going to share that the diplodocus is their favorite dinosaur, but it was fresh in my mind because I had just been having a very in depth dinosaur conversation that very evening.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t think I can summon an image of what a diplodocus is off the top of my head. I think of the pterodactyl, the tyrannosaurus, triceratops, but I’m drawing a blank here.

Pam Skillings
I’m trying to be a little bit different, you know? I think the main reason is because it’s a lot of fun to say. Diplodocus. I don’t know, something about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Does it have any noteworthy features or abilities?

Pam Skillings
It’s kind of brontosaurus like. It’s big and it’s an herbivore. It’s definitely in the top ten I think of all time dinosaurs.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny, we have a new baby at home. The shirt he wears most days has three dinosaurs on it and one of them might be a diplodocus. I’ll have to double check.

Pam Skillings
Yeah, you’ll have to see if you can find one. You’ve got to start them early with the diplodocus.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, I want to hear all about your brilliance when it comes to helping folks with interviews. It’s impressive to behold. You’ve been doing this for a good while now. How long?

Pam Skillings
I’ve been doing this – well, career coaching since 2005 I guess. Yeah, and focusing, not exclusively, but mostly on interviewing for the last several years if not more. I hate to – it makes me feel old when I think too hard about it, but yeah, for a good long time. I kind of found my niche for a lot of people.

I still do coaching on other career issues, but I think I started out focusing more so on career change and bigger sort of career issues, trying to figure out the next chapter of your career. I still help people with that.

But I found that along with that, a lot of people, their biggest challenge was once they figured out what they wanted to do next, “Okay, how do I get someone to give me that job?” Most people are not naturally good at interviewing. Even if they’re not terrible, they could be better. They tend to get nervous. It’s a nerve-racking kind of experience.

I found I kind of had a knack for helping people with it. I think maybe because earlier in my career I worked in – I’ve worked in both marketing and human resources before getting into coaching and falling in love with sort of helping people with their careers and finding work that they love.

For whatever reason, I found that I had a knack for sort of listening to people and helping them figure out how to present themselves and their accomplishments and their strengths in the way that was really going to resonate with the interviewers. It was really rewarding to me once I started working with people on that because you see results right away.

I love ongoing coaching because you help people overcome big problems, but it takes a lot of time. With interview coaching I tend to even in one session, sometimes I’ll get a call the next day, “Hey, it went great. I got the job offer.” It’s really a nice feeling. It’s really rewarding to help people who have a lot of great things going for them just to get over this one hurdle, to learn this one skill, to kind of look at themselves and their own experience in a different way.

It’s hard I think to look at yourselves objectively sometimes and think about “What do I want to emphasize? What do I want to bring out about myself for this particular opportunity?”

An interview is kind of a different interaction than anything else we do in I guess normal life. People sometimes haven’t had training or it’s just not something that they’re comfortable with, but with a little bit of training, a little bit of coaching you can see people make a huge, huge difference.

Getting good at interviewing is a major life improvement opportunity. You can get a better job. You can get a job that you love more, make a lot more money. There’s so many things that you can achieve if you get good at interviewing.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. The stakes and the rewards are substantial, which is how you’ve been able to command a 500 dollar an hour rate for years upon years, so congrats to you fellow entrepreneur. That’s really cool.

I’d love to hear then a couple of the gems that you share during these coaching sessions that make people say, “Yeah, that was totally worth it.” I’ll get specific shortly, but for now I’d like to go wide open in terms of those nuggets you share that make people go, “Wow, yes. That was the thing.”

Pam Skillings
Yeah, I think there’s a couple things that are recurring themes. I think most people are terrible at the whole ‘tell me about yourself’ because it’s just an awkward hugely open-ended question. It’s so easy to get off on a tangent or to stumble.

That’s one I’ve seen make a huge difference, just spending  a little bit of time together kind of thinking about, “Okay, how do I want to open this interview?” You’re opening in an interview and almost always that first question is something along those lines, sort of open-ended ‘tell me about yourself,’ ‘walk me through your resume.’

I find just making improvements to that and how you open, because it’s kind of like how you position yourself with this person. What their first real impression of you? What do they focus on? Well, you kind of have some control over than in terms of what you emphasize and how you describe yourself in that ‘tell me about yourself.’

Now of course, you’ve got to cover the key facts on the resume, but there’s a lot of different ways that you can do that. I think that’s one of the things.

Just being able to give real objective feedback to people about how they’re coming across. I think it’s very difficult sometimes to know yourself and often in interviews, you don’t get real feedback. You might get a, “Well, we went another way,” or “Yeah, we really liked you, but-.” You rarely get told, “Hey, you could be doing this better and this could be-” so I think that’s part of it.

I use my time very effectively. I sit down with someone and I am 100% focused on them and hearing what their challenges are, hearing how they’re coming across. I do my homework before each session on their industry. At this point I’ve worked with people across a lot of different industries, different levels, and there are definitely some nuances and differences when it comes to different types of jobs.

I think that’s sort of where I add value in having done this a long time and having a pretty good understanding of where people go wrong and what hiring managers are looking for and being able to give advice on sort of all the steps along the way in the job search and interview process.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to dig into some of these matters then. When it comes to the ‘tell me about yourself’ or ‘walk me through your resume,’ what are some of the key do’s and don’ts there?

Pam Skillings
Well, I think one of the biggest ones is having a strategy. We have this three-part model that we recommend to people. It’s not the only way to do it, but sort of going in and knowing, like this is the chance to basically tell my whole story. I don’t know want to try to wing it and end up going off on a tangent or end up leading with the stuff that’s less relevant or interesting and losing the person after 20 seconds.

We have this three-part model. We have articles. We have lots of information and free advice on our blog, BigInterview.com/blog and Big Interview is our online training platform, so people who don’t have the budget or inclination to hire a coach to work one-on-one, we’ve put a lot of different lessons in terms of how I do things with my clients and there’s a practice tool and a bunch of stuff like that on Big interview.

‘Tell me about yourself’ is definitely one of the things that is most popular and that people are most likely to be looking for on our site. Really emphasizing what’s most relevant and interesting for this particular job.

I think a lot of people by instinct kind of walk in and start at the beginning of their story. It’s like “Well, I grew up here. I went to college here.” If you’re a ten-year seasoned executive, by the time you get to the stuff that I really care about in terms of are you the right person for this job, I’ve kind of checked out a little bit. That’s one of the things I see people doing.

I think one of the other things people do with the ‘tell me about yourself’ as well as the rest of the interview is they just don’t – I hate to say sell yourself because it sounds like not a very human thing to do, but the truth is that in a job interview, you really have to think about how do I sell them on the fact that I’m the best fit for this job. How do I really highlight my strengths, experience that I have that will make me great in this position.

A lot of people aren’t comfortable with that. Most of us are not taught how to do that. We’re taught actually that that’s obnoxious to say nice things about yourself or to be too forward or to brag, especially people who are introverts, who are a little more modest by nature. They kind of struggle with that.

Even if they’re trying to do it, even through, “I know I’m supposed to sell myself, so I’m going to try to say something here,” they don’t necessarily do it in the most effective way because it doesn’t feel comfortable. They hold back. It’s out of their comfort zone or they stumble.

I think being able to do the planning upfront in this sort of three-part model is a helpful way to do that. You really think about “What are my talking points here? What is my story?”

We’ll talk some more about this I’m sure, but storytelling I think is a huge sort of secret weapon in terms of job interviews because they can be sort of dry at times. I think if you can use storytelling techniques in interviewing, it really helps to connect with the interviewer and also just make you a much more memorable candidate.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you talk about selling yourself. Could you provide maybe just a couple example sentences to orient us a bit like, “Oh no, that’s not going too far. That’s just right.”

Pam Skillings
Yeah. I think everyone has a certain comfort level. One of the things I tell people is, “Okay, you’re an introvert. You have a quiet personality. I’m not going to force you to memorize a script saying I am the greatest manager ever and I leave all the other candidates in the dust.” That’s not going to feel natural and that’s not going to make a great impression by going too far in that direction either.

I always talk to people about how to find a way to say it in their voice, way to talk about their accomplishments in their voice to make sure that the interviewer is hearing it and is suitably impressed, but without it feeling over the top for them.

That’s why practice I think is huge too for people who are a little bit uncomfortable with this idea of selling themselves because the first time you say it, even if it’s perfectly fine in terms of the language, it’s going to feel weird because you’re not used to talking that way.

But if you practice out loud a few times, then you tweak it a little bit, maybe you change a word here and there, and you just get more comfortable with the idea of speaking that way about yourself.

Some of the things I advise people to do if they’re feeling a little bit uncomfortable or having a hard time figuring out a way to do this in their own style is first of all think about factual statements that are impressive. You don’t have to say, “I’m the greatest ever. I’m fantastic. You should definitely hire me.” You can say, “I led a multimillion dollar project that we delivered two weeks ahead of deadline and got amazing feedback from the client.”

Yeah, you put a few adjectives in there. You give a little enthusiasm around it. But it’s basically just stating the facts of something that you accomplished. That’s one thing.

Another technique for people who struggle a little bit that I  – there are others too, but another one that I found people find useful is quoting someone else. If you’re having a hard time saying, “I’m a great manager,” you can say, “In my performance review I got great feedback from my manager about my ability to mentor.”

Then you’re quoting somebody else and that gives it – first of all it gives it maybe a little bit of an extra credibility boost in terms of the listeners but it also doesn’t feel so much like you’re bragging as that you’re just sharing what someone else told you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that. I’m curious then in terms of sort of the tone with which you deliver these factual sentences or these quotations from others. Do you have some pro tips on calibrating that nicely?

Pam Skillings
Yeah, I think – you mean in terms of vocal quality and things like that?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. I can imagine that you can do it raw in a sense of “I delivered a multi-million dollar result.” It’s like, “Oh my gosh, I hate you. Shut up. Get out now.”

Pam Skillings
Yes, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s the best way to say it?

Pam Skillings
Yeah, well those are the two ends of the extreme. The one end of the extreme is the person who’s just fumbling about it and then there’s the person who memorized this script that they’re reciting and that sounds totally canned and totally phony.

The best way to do this, finding that perfect balance between preparing and not over preparing to the point where it doesn’t feel true or it’s not at all spontaneous. I’m a big believer in this idea of the bullet-point approach. It’s about thinking about what you’re key speaking points are for the most important questions.

There’s a core set of questions that I think are the most commonly asked as well as the ones that I think maybe have the biggest influence in terms of the overall impression that interviewers have of a particular candidate.

Especially if there’s an area that you’re sensitive about or if there’s a gap in your resume or something like that, questions around more awkward topics, sort of preparing some bullet points. You’re not scripting word for word but you’re sort of capturing a few bullet points that allows you to really focus on the most interesting, relevant things you have to say for that question.

I use the metaphor sometimes about celebrities going on a talk show, right? They’re going on a talk show and they’re not going to completely improvise, but they’re also not going to get up there and read from a script, but they’re going to have, well probably their publicist, but somebody’s going to prepare these speaking points for them.

They’re going to get up there and they’re going to make sure to mention that fun story about their co-worker on set. They’re going to make sure to mention this other interesting fact about their favorite hobbies. So thinking a little bit about the bullet points.

Then practicing. Again, I think sometimes people – practicing gets a bad reputation because people feel like, “Oh, well if you practice too much, it’s not going to be authentic. It’s not going to be natural.”

For me it’s the opposite. I’ve seen it time and time again with people because everybody knows you’re supposed to practice. Every interview book is like, “Well, you should practice.” But a lot of people are like, “Eh, yeah. But it’s awkward. It’s weird. I don’t know. I’m just going to say it in my head.”

But I see it time and again in sessions. People go from stumbling to sounding really polished and confident after practicing it a few times. It’s sort of like – because an interview is a performance to some degree. You’re starring as yourself, so hopefully you’re being authentic, but you’re also preparing. You want to make sure you’re prepared, just like when you give an important presentation. You’re being yourself, but you’re being the best version of yourself that you can be.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. That analogy to the talk shows, it’s true with like the anecdotes. It just reminds me of – there’s this goofy TV show called Nathan for You.

Pam Skillings
Oh, I don’t know that one.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. It’s out there. This comedian studied all the anecdotes shared at talk shows and then crafted what would be the perfect anecdote for him to share at a talk show and then elaborately constructed the events to unfold so that he wasn’t technically lying. We can link to that in the show notes.

Pam Skillings
Yeah, that sounds hilarious.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to these questions that show up a lot and have a big impact in forming the impression of a candidate, could you share a few of those right here, right now?

Pam Skillings
Absolutely, absolutely. ‘Tell me about yourself’ definitely is one of the top ones. I’ve already sort of talked at length, perhaps too much length, about that one. That’s really important.

Every interview is going to ask you some form of ‘why are you interested in this job,’ why do you want to work here.’ There’s different angles on that: ‘why this company,’ ‘why this position,’ ‘why this career path,’ sort of depending on where you are in your career and whether you’re making a switch.

Really being able to speak at length in a non-generic way about why this is the perfect next opportunity for you is very important.

Strengths and weaknesses both are very important and also tend to come up and maybe there are different variations on how they are worded, but these are things that are frequently asked about.

Even the weakness, and I do think the weakness question is a bit of a cliché and probably not something where you’re going to get a ton of truthful information from someone. Everyone knows to expect it at this point I think or most people do, especially if they read my blog. But it is still asked a lot.

I keep waiting for it to go out of fashion and for people to stop asking it, but I keep asking my clients when they come in after a new interview, they’re like, “Yup, yup. They asked me. They definitely asked me.”

Strengths and weaknesses. I think strengths even more so because preparing for the weakness question is more a matter of limiting the downside, where because it’s an awkward question and if you’re not prepared you could blurt something out that’s weird or just not ideal versus the strengths question, which is another example of where you’re sort of being forced to sell yourself and say good things about yourself.

If you’re not prepared, a lot of times people lapse into this very generic, vague, laundry list of “I’m a people person. I’m detail oriented,” but just not taking full advantage of the opportunity basically to say, “Okay, here are the top three reasons why I would be awesome at this job.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I like that. You gave a little bit of detail there. You have some bullets for top three and not being shy about doing the sales when it comes to the strengths side. What are some components for the why are you interested in this company or this role.

You say you want to be non-generic, so don’t, I guess, parrot back the information that’s on the website and say general things. But what are some sort of particular examples that really make that come to life?

Pam Skillings
Yeah, there’s a couple things. First of all, you definitely want to do your research on the company. I think most people know to do that. You want to show that you understand what the company does and there are things about the company that you like. Doing some research and fining some things about the company.

If you can go beyond what you read on a website and talk about, “Oh, I have a friend who worked there,” or you have some sort of information that you’ve gained.

But even if you’ve just read about the company, but you have a couple of specific details that you pulled about they won an award for innovation or they’re CEO did this interview in the journal that you thought was really insightful. Being able to talk about something specific if you can.

Then I think one of the things that people sometimes don’t do that I think makes the biggest difference with this kind of question is they think about the company, but they don’t really think specifically about the job itself. I think that’s really important here.

You do want to make sure that it’s clear you did the research on the company, you think the company’s a good fit for you. But when it comes down to it, your success in this position is going to depend on what you do every day, the job itself. Being able to talk about how this job description is made for me.

I’m being a little over the top in the language, but being able to point to, “Hey, these are the things you’re looking for. This is why I’m a great fit because I’ve done this and I’ve got this strength and I’ve got this training.”

Being able to really speak to the job description and both the fact that you are a great fit for that job description and also that you would be excited about doing the work, that this is the kind of work that you love to do and thus, you would be motivated to succeed if they hired you for the role.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s super, so not just “I thought it was cool that you won these awards,” which is like front and center on the homepage, but particulars associated with this will get you fired up to go forward and do that. I like it.

It’s interesting, it seems like that is really a theme here is that in each of these instances, it’s not so much a matter of directly answering precisely the facts requested of you so much so as telling the story of your talking points about why you are particularly wonderful for this opportunity.

Pam Skillings
Yeah, absolutely and thinking strategically about – and that’s why I think sometimes – some people are good at winging it and good stuff comes out.

I’ve had lots of clients who have said, “Yes, I do pretty well when I get a good interviewer and they ask good questions and we have a good rapport, but then I have these other situations where I walk in and I’m like the person’s not giving me anything or they’re asking really weird, vague questions.” And they just shut down or they start blurting things out.

I think the preparation that I work with people to do allows you to be proactive, allows you to kind of take control of the experience, so you’re not scripting, but you’re thinking, “Okay, I know that these are the key things I want to convey about myself in this interview, so if they ask the perfect question, great. If they don’t, I’m going to find ways to work in the fact that I have these great leadership skills and I’ve led an international team of 25-“

Thinking about these are the things that I want to make sure I’m able to communicate gives you a little bit of control. It can feel a lot like you’re at the mercy of the interviewer in a job interview and you somewhat are, I guess, but if you go in feeling comfortable with your speaking points and the things that you want them to remember about you, it gives you a little bit of that opportunity to be strategic and proactive about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have any pro tips for doing a smart segue there in terms of they’re asking you a question and you’re delivering your speaking points.

I guess I’m chuckling and thinking about politicians now. They’re asked a question and they just say what they want to say regardless of the question that is posed to them. I’d say, if I were an interviewer, that would make me angry. It’s like, “Okay, either you are not listening to me or you’re dumb, or you are sort of determined to railroad this in the way you like.” Whatever the interpretation, I don’t like it. What are some of your pro tips for making a smooth connection between the question and your talking point?

Pam Skillings
Yeah, I agree. I think you don’t want to completely ignore the question and basically just say what you feel like saying. I think that’s definitely not going to serve you well.

I always say you do want to answer the question. You don’t want to just sort of jam your speaking points in there regardless of what they asked. You’re looking for questions that legitimately provide an opening for what you want to say. Usually there are. Usually there are some open-ended questions where you get an opportunity to talk about what you want to talk about.

I do think you do want to answer the questions that are asked though. I definitely see some advice out there about “Seize control of the interview. Turn the question back on them.” I have heard many stories about how that has backfired. I would not advise it.

Pete Mockaitis
What are your strengths?

Pam Skillings
How do you feel about this position? Yeah, so you can ask questions and they’ll probably prompt you to ask question at some point in the interview, but there’s also a certain matter of respect to answer the questions that are asked.

This is their job. Their job is to hire someone great for this role. They’re not just trying to torture you. Some people are better interviewers than others, some are not great. But this is serious for them. They have to pick someone.

It’s a big risk factor. If they hire someone who doesn’t work out, it’s going to make them look bad. It might influence their bonus and promotion possibilities. You kind of have to think about their perspective too.

That’s one of the things I always talk about with people. Why are they asking a certain question? It’s not just because they want to be difficult, but thinking about where is it that they’re coming from and how you can address what their concerns are and what they feel they need to know about you.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to hear, you talked a lot about getting really specific about what you’re talking points are and what’s special about you and getting those out there and the research.

Can we zoom out a little bit to talk about some universals in terms of “Hey, no matter what your talking points are, no matter what the industry or the role, these are some things that always go over well in interviews, so be sure to do them or something that always don’t go over so well, so be sure not to do them.”

Pam Skillings
I love these questions. You don’t want to generalize too much, but there definitely are some things that you see time and time again.

I think one of the things that goes across almost all interviews, I would say all interviews, in addition to the ‘tell me about yourself’ thing and being able to talk about your strengths, but one of the things that’s really important that I think some people either don’t think about or they just have difficulty doing is really showing your sincere enthusiasm for the position.

I always use the analogy of dating with people. I always say, “Hopefully your dates are more fun than your job interviews.” As much as I think job interviews are important, there is a difference. But it’s about making it clear that you’re happy to be there and that you find the opportunity really interesting. You have enthusiasm. You’d be motivated to succeed if they hired you.

That’s why I think that question of “Why are you interested in this opportunity? Why are you interested in this company? What are you looking to do next?” they’re really trying to get a feel for what you care about, how this position fits into your career goals and into what you love to do, and trying to get a feel for whether you would be a passionate, strong performer if you were hired. I think that’s one thing that cuts across all types of interviews.

Some people struggle ether because they have a very low key personality. One sort of sub-group of my coaching clients over the years are people who have a very sort of poker-faced, low key kind of demeanor and they miss out on opportunities.

They’re getting feedback, “Well you just didn’t seem that interested. It didn’t seem like you were that excited about the opportunity.” They’re like, “I really was, but I’m just not someone who goes in there and says, “This is the greatest job ever.’”

We work on ways to bring out their personality and their enthusiasm a little bit in a way that still feels like them and practice helps with that too because they can see – on Big Interview we have a video practice interview tool. I also video record the mock interviews I do with coaching clients.

So they can see themselves on video and they can see that sometimes if you have a very low-key personality, every little bit of smiling or hand gestures feels, “Oh, that’s over the top,” but then you see it on video and you realize, “Okay, well, that isn’t as weird as it feels to me. I just have to kind of get used to it.” I think that helps with that particular issue as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. That’s good. The enthusiasm is one universal. What else?

Pam Skillings
Let’s see, what else is a universal? I think asking smart questions is definitely a universal and preparing some questions to ask at the end of the interview that are smart, they show you’ve done your homework, not like, “So what does this company do anyway?” But also that focus on your ability to do a good job, so not vacation days and things like that.

But “What do you think are the biggest opportunities for the department this year? What are some of the most interesting projects that are happening at the company right now?” Questions that show your interest in the work and the company and the team and show that you’re already thinking about how can I contribute, how can I get involved in this. Asking smart questions I think is definitely a universal.

Another universal and we can go into more detail about this or not is I think the behavioral questions, being able to tell good stories about your greatest accomplishments because you’re going to get those behavioral questions in most interviews, ‘tell me about a time,’ ‘give me an example.’

Even if you don’t get those formally behavioral questions, having stories of your greatest hits, I call them your greatest hits stories, sort of having some stories prepared in a nice, concise way that kind of help to show, “Hey, here are some of the cool things that I’ve done that demonstrate my ability to do the work that’s required in this position.”

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. I’d love to get your take, yes, when it comes to what makes a story great. How do we think about that in terms of I guess length or components or how do we story tell well?

Pam Skillings
Well, I think in an interview there are some similarities to telling a great story at a party and a story in an interview, although I’m sure the interview ones are maybe not quite as amusing as stories you might tell in other areas of your life. But there definitely are similarities.

You want to have a little bit of a story arc. You want to paint a picture and you want to make sure that you’re really sharing what you in particular did to contribute to the project or the situation instead of falling back on the generic ‘we.’

I think this might come from people who are a little bit more on the modest side. Instead of saying, “I did this,” or, “I came up with the solution,” it’s, “Well, we, we, we.”

I always use, I think it’s a tried and true approach until they come up with something better, the STAR format. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that from your career, but there’s something called the STAR format that you might see in career books in college career centers. I share it with students sometimes. I think it originated out of management consulting as a way to evaluate these behavioral stories.

The idea is that each answer should form a complete star. I take it a little bit loosely. The ST is supposed to stand for situation task. For me it’s like not necessarily situation or task, but it’s a little bit of backstory. Here’s the context. Here’s why this project was important. Here’s just enough background so that you can understand what happens. Not a whole history of the entire project, just enough to set things up.

The A is kind of the meat of the story. It’s approach or actions. Then you walk through just a couple bullet points. This is where it can get difficult. Sometimes you’re telling a story of a multi-month or even year project, so you’ve got to think about “Okay, what are the highlights here? What are the key things I want to talk about?”

Of course, being prepared to give more information if there are more follow up questions, they want more detail on certain things. Having a couple of those bullet points about what happened, here are some obstacles that came up, here’s how we address them, here’s some other things that I did.

Then all of that leading up to the R, the happy ending. Every good story has a happy ending. The result. Having some sort of positive outcome. This could be a concrete result and often that’s very effective being able to say, “We saved the company a million dollars,” or, “We increased revenue by 8%,” or whatever, but sometimes it can even be anecdotal. “I got great feedback. Everyone was really happy with the project. We got in under budget, under deadline,” etcetera.

Having a positive outcome that you can speak to, that gives it a nice story arc, a little bit of a hero’s journey from the beginning to the positive outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
So in sharing this story, it’s interesting. I think that in many ways you could complete a full STAR in one minute or ten minutes. What are your thoughts in terms of about how long is the right amount of length?

Pam Skillings
My go-to advice is for any answer, one to two minutes is a sweet spot. Two minutes is stretching it a little bit. There are some differences in terms of types of interviews. There are some types of panel interviews that are fully behavioral and they have a little bit more leeway for the stories to be a little bit longer.

There are some exceptions here and there, but I think after two minutes you’re going to start losing people even if your content is good. I think it’s just attention span, monologue versus dialogue. I think you’re trying to come up with a story that’s in that one to two minute range.

Then of course, being prepared and hoping by the way you tell your story that you’ve given them some interesting things that they might want to dig more deeply into. Then of course you can give that additional detail.

But I think one of the things people struggle with is being able to focus it down to something that’s concise and engaging and still making sure that they’re giving me enough information to show why this was a big success.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Any other thoughts when it comes to body language or vocal pauses or how we’re presenting ourselves?

Pam Skillings
Yes, this is a big one. I think so many people come in after their first session and one of their biggest questions is, “Okay, well, how is my body language? Was I doing anything weird?” The answer is almost always, “Well, yes.” Because we all do. I do it too.

When we’re not focused on body language or we’re not 100% sure of what we’re talking about sometimes, we all fall back on things like um’s and ah’s, and fidgeting. I like to fidget with my hands. Everybody has different things that they do. I’ve had people who twirl in the seat, who play with their hair, who have the key phrase ‘like, you know,’ repeat ‘like, you know’ after every line. Most people are not hugely dramatic, but everybody has those little tells.

One of the things I tell people is that the practice, as tedious as it may sound to you, but preparing so that you feel good about what your key points are going to be and how you want to describe things in sort of a general way, not memorize word for word, but having done enough preparation and then practicing, doing a couple practice interviews. It goes a long way in removing those things.

I could tell you, if you look at some of the video recordings of people, their first practice interview and their first session or a new user on Big Interview, they record their first practice interview versus later on after they’ve kind of worked through some things and practiced a few times. It’s a huge difference. Almost always those little body language things go away.

Yeah, sometimes I do have to direct people’s attention to it because they’re not even sure that they’re doing it. But I usually tell people at the beginning, “Don’t overthink the body language thing yet. Let’s think about what you want to say. Let’s dig into that.” Then try it a few times and almost always I see it naturally either at least significantly reduced, if not go away completely.

Of course, you don’t have to be perfect. Even the best public speakers that get up on stage in front of hundreds of people, you’ll catch them in an um or an uh here and there I’m pretty sure.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. Most of the time you’re saying when you see weird body language that is largely due to just folks being unprepared and doing what their bodies do when they’re I guess feeling nervous or not rearing to go.

Pam Skillings
Nervousness and I think the other things is when you’re distracted by trying to think of what you want to say, you fall back on – you’re not even aware you’re doing that. That’s when people do things like stare down at the table or stare up at the ceiling or start fidgeting with the pen because they’re not even aware they’re doing it because they are nervous and most people are at least a little bit nervous in an interview.

Then they’re just distracted by – in their head they’re so caught up with, “Okay, well I could say this, but I’m not really sure. What did he mean by that?” or, “Oh, why’s he looking over there? I think he hates me,” all this stuff that’s going through your brain. If you’ve prepared in the way that I’ve tried to get people to prepare, there’s a lot less of that noise happening in your head.

You’re occasionally still going to get a curveball and you’re still probably going to have some nervousness here and there, but there’s a lot less of that.

There are some people who are just not as comfortable face to face, where we have to do a little bit more work. Maybe they haven’t had a lot of experience having to sit down and present and speak to people face to face, so there are people who need a little bit more sort of extra work and guidance, but for most people I think a lot of that gets smoothed out with the preparation and the practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. Tell me, Pam, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things.

Pam Skillings
One thing sometimes people are surprised to hear and you mentioned in your last question things to do that are more universal and also things not to do that are universal.

I think one of the things not to do that a lot of people do is at the end I said it’s great, ask smart questions. There’s some advice floating around somewhere out there that says, “Ask a question like, ‘Is there anything about me that you have concerns about in terms of this position?’” There’s variations on that. Basically, getting the interviewer to tell you what objections do you have to me.

I think it’s a bad idea. I see where it came from. I think it came from sales because when you’re a salesperson this idea of surfacing objections so that you can address them makes perfect sense. “Well, why don’t you want to buy this product?” Well if they say it’s pricing, I have my thing I can say about pricing. But it’s just a very different situation in a job interview for a couple of reasons.

One is that most HR people and managers and especially at big companies, they’ve been trained not to give feedback like that on the spot. Sometimes they just don’t have that feedback on the spot. They need to take it in. They need to process. They’ve got other candidates.

You’re putting them in an awkward potion. I’ve so many HR people and hiring managers who have said that’s their least favorite question because it puts them on the spot, it’s awkward.

I think that ties into this whole idea of – I’m sure you’ve heard about there’s studies but there about sort of the peak end experience and how influential the end of an experience is in terms of how you remember it.

I think asking a question like this at the very end of the interview is just a perfect set up to say, “Okay, now think about everything negative you can imagine about me right at the end.” I think it doesn’t do people any favor to ask a question like that.

I think you could flip it and ask in a more positive way, something more like, “What do you think are the most important qualities for someone in this role?” something like that because that might get them talking a little bit about qualities that maybe you haven’t had a chance to talk about or give you an opening to talk about your experience in a different way.

The whole setup to critique me at the end of an interview is not a good way to go.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting because I can hear how folks would very much want to say, “Is there anything else? I want to make sure I nail that for you,” so you can accomplish that by asking it differently, so that’s good.

I guess you – if you’re at the phase of the interview toward the end, which you’re asking the questions, it might seem a little off to say, “Oh, what are the most critical things?” “Oh, well, by the way, I totally have all of those.” What’s the next step do you think?

Pam Skillings
Well, yeah, I think you look for a way to naturally bring it up if you can. If they say, “The most important thing here is we’re looking for someone who’s an innovator,” and then being able to say, “Oh, that’s great. I thought so based on the job description and I think that that’s something that’s a great fit for my background because of the innovation that I’ve done at blah, blah, blah.”

I think trying to make a natural segue as opposed to, “Oh, oh, oh, that’s me. That’s me. That’s me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Pam Skillings
Yeah, I looked up – I was thinking about something that would be interesting. Sorry, I have to scroll down because I have all these quotes saved in my files. This is a Picasso quote that I like which is, “I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it.”

That one just stuck with me in general because so many times I found new things that I loved to do, that I’m good at doing by pushing myself out of the comfort zone even though earlier I thought, I could never do that. That sounds horrible. That sounds way beyond my capabilities.

I think that’s interesting. A lot of research backs up the fact that just the practice, the doing it, of putting yourself out there, may be you won’t be Picasso, but it’s a way of learning and a way of pushing yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Pam Skillings
I think for me all the interesting research that’s out there about storytelling I find just fascinating. To try to pick one is difficult, but all the work that’s out there about how much more memorable you are when you give your information in the form of a story and how much more the person listening to you connects with you.

It ties into all this stuff about interviewing in terms of telling your behavioral stories because it’s true. If you talk about your strengths in a more generic way, that’s all well and good, but if you tell a story, you’re inviting the person to imagine you, to picture you, and to really feel like, “Yeah, I have a sense of how that person works. I could see myself working with this person. I can see how this person approaches a problem.”

A lot of really interesting research on storytelling and the power of storytelling. I nerd out with all of those medi-books and studies that are you there on the different aspects of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh great. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Pam Skillings
A couple that I’ve been thinking about that apply to my work and I read a lot. I read a lot of fiction as well. But Daniel Pink’s Drive is something that has really resonated with me. Just thinking about as a coach, as someone who’s trying to teach and motivate people and even motivating a small child has a lot of really interesting insights about what motivates people and why people do what they do.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Pam Skillings
Well, one thing, thinking about an app or – Zoom is something that I use with my clients and it’s something for anyone who is having meeting and Skype is lovely too, but Zoom is a similar video conferencing tool. I have all of my video coaching sessions with Zoom so that’s something that I use every day.

I just feel, yes, phone coaching can be great too, but there’s something about having someone – being able to see someone, having them be able to see you, and also being able to record everything so that they can go back and review their practice interview, review the advice, brainstorm so that I would say is something that has really helped make my life and my work much more efficient and effective.

Pete Mockaitis
I love Zoom as well and I’d love to get your professional take, do you believe Zoom has superior audio quality over Skype?

Pam Skillings
I think so and certainly in terms of reliability. I think that’s one of the things, aside from the video component and the ability to record in a reliable way, I find that the sound fades out and does weird things less often.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you.

Pam Skillings
How about you? What’s your take on that?

Pete Mockaitis
I think that the video quality is better with Zoom. I think it’s an interface I enjoy using more. I find that I guess – I’m on the fence right now in terms of should I jump on over and use Zoom for my podcast interviews. I certainly love it with coaching environments. I’m still deciding.

Pam Skillings
Yeah, let me know how you go because I haven’t used it a lot for sort of recording things that are being shared with lots of people like a podcast would be, but more for individual’s use, so yeah, I would be curious to see what your experience is if you test that out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. Can do. Do you have a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Pam Skillings
I think on the subject of interviewing, I think one of the things that resonates with people, this idea that interviewing is a skill. You get people who feel like, “Well, I’m bad at interviewing,” or interviewing is awful and interviewing is something that you’re either good at or you’re not good at. It absolutely is a skill.

I’ve had people who were objectively terrible and getting that feedback, were bad enough that people were saying, “You really need to work on your interviewing.” That’s how people find me sometimes.

It really is a skill like a lot of things that you can work on. There are actionable steps that you can take. I think that’s something that makes people feel a lot better. “Okay, I’m a quick study. I’m someone – if you tell me what I need to do and walk me through the steps, I can do it.”

If interviewing is one of the things that’s in the way between you and your dream job, it doesn’t have to be. You can definitely improve your skills no matter what level you’re at the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Pam Skillings
BigInterview.com is our site. That’s where we have all of our information. I do coach people one on one. BigInterview.com is our self-guided learning platform where people can check out video lessons, the practice tool, all kinds of things like that.

Our blog has tons of free information, lots of articles on things like that, three-part model, and how to approach behavioral. I’ve got all kinds of articles about all the different pieces of the interview process. If anyone is interested in learning more, that’s probably the best place.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Pam Skillings
Well, this is something that goes beyond interviewing. It’s something I’ve been saying for a while, which is I really feel like people should look at managing their career the way that they would run a business.

Really being proactive and being a good interviewer is part of that, being able to speak about your strengths and your experience, being able to connect with people, to find opportunities, but thinking about it in a very entrepreneurial way as opposed to sort of letting your career happen to you.

I’m sure that’s something that the people who listen to this podcast already are kind of thinking along those lines, but I think it’s important. You never want to be powerless and at the mercy of other people. You want to always be improving yourself, learning new skills, developing yourself, and positioning yourself for the next opportunity, whether it’s your current job or somewhere else.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Pam, thank you so much for taking this time and sharing these perspectives. I wish you and Big Interview and all you’re up to lots of luck.

Pam Skillings
Thanks so much and you too.

298: Key Success Principles that Are Wrong (sort of) with Eric Barker

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Eric Barker busts the myths and uncovers truths behind some of the most popular maxims.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How alignment is a genuine key to success
  2. Why valedictorians don’t necessarily shape the world
  3. How to operate like a Navy Seal

About Eric

Eric Barker’s humorous, practical blog, “Barking Up the Wrong Tree”, presents science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life. Over 320,000 people subscribe to his weekly newsletter and his content is syndicated by Time Magazine, The Week, and Business Insider. He has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, and the Financial Times. Eric is also a sought-after speaker and interview subject, and has given talks at MIT, Yale, Google, United States Military Central Command (CENTCOM), NASDAQ, and the Olympic Training Center.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Eric Barker Stanier Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Eric, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Eric Barker
Oh, it’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I got a real kick out of playing around and looking at your website. The domain or URL is, if I’m saying it right, bakadesuyo.com, which has an interesting translation. Can you tell us the story here?

Eric Barker
Yeah, basically my last name means idiot in Japanese. Barker, basically, the Japanese syllabic system doesn’t have r’s, so Barker becomes Baka. Baka means idiot.

When I was first starting the blog like nine years ago and I was doing it on a lark. I didn’t even know where this would end up going. I was just like, “Hey, let’s play with this.” My URL – basically it emphatically states that I am Barker. It also says I’m an idiot because me introducing myself is – those are the same sentence…

Me introducing myself and me calling myself a moron are the same sentence in Japanese, so I have never had a Japanese – I’ve been to Tokyo three times. I’ve never had a Japanese person forget my name.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. It’s fun. It shows some humility, self-effacingness because really I would assert that I don’t think you’re an idiot. I think you have some pretty insightful things to share. You’ve got the book and blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Can you orient us a little bit to what that’s all about?

Eric Barker
Yeah, basically the blog’s kind of evolved over the years, but basically I wanted to look at – I wanted to get some real answers. When I first created … I was at a big turning point in my life and I wanted to get the best answers that I could, so I started looking at peer-reviewed scientific research, books, then I started interviewing experts.

Basically, I found that a lot of the questions – there’s this great William Gibson quote I love, where he says, “The future is already here, but it’s not evenly distributed.” I think that’s true with a lot of questions that we have about life is there is a lot of research and information, good information, about the questions we all ask, but they’re in dusty journals or they’re locked in the ivory towers of universities.

I’ve tried to just get good answers to how can we basically live a great life, so in terms of relationships, in terms of productivity, happiness, all these kind of things. The internet is filled with so much kind of junk information or unverifiable ideas that somebody came up with over lunch to at least get something that has some backing to it.

Then for the book basically after a number of years of doing the blog, the book is basically looking at the issue of success. We all grew up with these maxims of success we hear, like, ‘nice guys finish last’ and ‘it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.’

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve got to work hard.

Eric Barker
Yeah, and we don’t know where they came from. We don’t know if they’re true. We don’t know if they used to be true, but they’re not true anymore.

Basically I decided to play myth busters and each chapter of the book is one of those maxims. I go down the rabbit hole looking at the research, talking to the experts, and basically giving each one of these their day in court looking at both sides of the issue and trying to tell some fun stories and have a good time along the way.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Now, you say myth busters, I didn’t see anywhere on your blog, maybe I missed it in which you filled a pig’s stomach with pop rocks and a carbonated beverage, is that there somewhere or did I overlook that?

Eric Barker
I don’t want to talk about my personal life, but you know. No, that’s not on the blog, but I do have an appointment later today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. I knew I would like you.

Let’s dig into some of these things. I’m particularly interested from sort of a career and personal development vantage point, you say that much of what we know quote/unquote, if you didn’t hear that, there’s air quote all over that, about success is totally wrong. Can you expand upon that?

Eric Barker
Yeah, again, specifically I address these maxims, where they’re very black and white, you know, ‘nice guys finish last.’ It’s not as clear-cut as that. There’s many facets to the question, but most specifically I would point to Adam Grant, who is a professor at Wharton, and his research shows that nice guys do finish last, but they also finish first.

When you look at the results from a number of different careers, you find that the most altruistic people, the results are bimodal. They are actually at the bottom and the top of success metrics.

If you think about it, that may sound confusing, it actually makes sense because we all know somebody who is just a martyr, who gets taken advantage of. They’re just too nice. They don’t look out for themselves. But we all also know somebody who is just awesome, supportive and giving and everybody loves them, everybody feels indebted to them, and everybody goes out of their way to help this very giving altruistic person.

We’ve got these overly simplified black and white concepts of success and when you dig into it, you usually find that it’s a little more nuanced than that and in some cases a lot more nuanced than that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’d love it if you could unpack a couple of these maxims. ‘Nice guys finish last,’ that’s a great one to think through in sort of a career or work context. What are some others that leap to mind?

Eric Barker
One of the other things I talk about is the issue that ‘It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.’

When you look at the research in terms of extroverts/introverts what you see is that across a number of metrics, extroverts do do better. They have bigger networks. They’re more likely, in most situations, to become leaders. They generally make more money. In fact, there’s a very significant amount of research that shows they’re happier.

However, what you see is that introverts have their own kind of superpower as well. That is that introverts are far more likely to get better grades. A disproportionate number of PhD holders are introverts. A disproportionate number of top athletes are introverts.

What you’re seeing there is basically that while extroverts derive enormous benefits from having big networks and knowing lots of people; introverts often take that time that they don’t spend socializing and use it to become experts in the field.

Rather than simply saying, ‘It’s not what you know; it’s who you know,’ it depends on your career. If you are in business development or sales or something, hey, being more extroverted, having a huge network can benefit you. But if you’re something like a computer programmer or maybe even a blogger or an author, being an introvert is beneficial because your skill is going to be more valuable, in general, than your network will be.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s my excuse for having a poor quality podcast and writing on AwesomeAtYourJob.com is that I’m so extroverted. I can’t be held responsible. I’m just out and about socializing all the time, Eric.

Eric Barker
The key meta point I make about success in the book is the idea that what is really critical is alignment. Know thyself, the old classic maxim. Knowing thyself and then picking the right pond. Basically really having some information, not just theories: who you are, what you’re like, what you’re good at, what are your signature strengths, what are your intensifiers, and then finding an environment that rewards those.

The alignment between those is critical. Like you’re saying there, it’s kind of like if you know, “Hey, I’m extroverted. I’m really conscientious,” then say what roles, what jobs, what companies or institutions reward those, that’s the path to success.

Actually what the research shows as well is that as opposed to doing what you love, very often what studies show is that when you do what you’re good at, you actually grow to love it. Finding out what you’re good at and passionately devoting yourself to that actually ends up making you happier.

By starting with knowing yourself, aligning yourself with an environment that supports that, that’s a really good path to success. Like you’re saying there, self-knowledge applied is really powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. When it comes to signature strengths, we’ve talked previously on the show about strengths stuff with Lisa Cummings or Scott Barlow, but the word intensifier, can you unpack that a little bit?

Eric Barker
Yeah, this is a concept that was put together by Gautam Mukunda at Harvard Business School. Signature strengths is an idea that – this research is done by Martin Seligman University of Pennsylvania.

Signature strengths, not only obviously does it make you good at your job to apply things you are naturally and uniquely good at, but also makes you happier. There’s tons of research showing it has a range of benefits when you use the unique skills you have.

However, most of those are usually these kind of generally good things, like if you’re agreeable or if IQ, you’ve got positive – things that are just universally well regarded. That’s where the concept of intensifiers comes in.

What Gautam Mukunda realized is when looking at leaders, many great leaders had qualities that were negative at the mean. In other words, on average these qualities were considered a negative, but they had aligned themselves with a context where that quality actually became a positive. It became a superpower.

In other words, in general if I said you were argumentative, most people would consider that an insult, in general. At the mean, argumentativeness is considered a negative quality. However, if you were to decide to become a litigator, being argumentative might be an essential part of your job and might advance your career.

Some people might say you’re stubborn. Okay, well, stubbornness again, in your interpersonal relationships can be a huge negative, generally considered a bad quality. But, if you’re an entrepreneur, you have to be stubborn. You’re going to face rejection. You’re going to face difficulty. Stubbornness might be almost indistinguishable from grit and persistence.

Intensifiers are understanding the negative at the mean qualities you possess and then finding that, “Hey, I’m stubborn, but I’m going to be an entrepreneur. I’m argumentative, but I’m a litigator. That even my negative qualities are being put to good use because of the career choices I’ve made.”

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well said. I dig that. It’s very potent synthesis and distillation of this stuff. I love it. I’m just going to keep going for it. You also unpack a little bit and explore why is it that valedictorians in fact rarely become millionaires. What’s the story behind this one?

Eric Barker
Basically, this was research by Karen Arnold at Boston College. What she found is that valedictorians, they do well. They do very well. They generally go on to prosperous careers. They often get graduate degrees. They live good lives.

But in terms of going on to being the people that shape the world, lead the world, they very, very rarely do. That is because of the nature of – we think of valedictorian almost as – we give it this kind of halo effect where it just means you’re awesome in general.

Pete Mockaitis
Ahh.

Eric Barker
Exactly. It’s not that. What it usually is is a strong sign of conscientiousness. The big five personality trait of conscientiousness, which means you’re good at following rules. People who are good at following rules, they show up on time, they do what they’re told.

Those people do very well in school, in high school and college because a big part – once you reach a certain minimum IQ threshold, grades actually are not a very good measure of IQs. Standardized tests are a very good measure of IQ. Grades are actually a good measure of conscientiousness. Do you do what you’re told? Do you play be the rules? Show up on time? Cross your t’s, dot your I’s?

That means that means that these people who are conscientious get very good grades. However the world is not just like schools. School has very clearly defined rules. The world does not have very clearly defined rules.

When there’s not a very strict playbook, you check all these boxes and you get an A plus, the enormous success of the valedictorians starts to break down. Like I said, overall they do very well, but they’re not going to be the people who change the world because they’re actually followers.

They’re people who do what they’re told very well, but they’re not the ones who generally go out and try and reinvent the playbook, who innovate, who change things. They usually will check all the boxes, which means someone else has to create those boxes.

To do well in school, also generally means you have to be a generalist. You have to – even if you’re passionate about math, you need to stop studying math to make sure you get an A in history and English. It requires you to be a generalist.

Whereas, as we all know, once you get into the workforce, you are generally rewarded for a singular skill set. If you are an amazing programmer and you don’t know anything about history, Google is still going to hire you. They don’t care about those other qualities.

Again, you are actually penalized in high school and college for too singular a focus, yet what is often rewarded in the work place is expertise in a singular focus. Once again, something that benefits valedictorians in high school and college can be a big negative when they go out into the working world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s really interesting, Eric, because I am a valedictorian. It’s really connecting that conscientiousness element when I’m getting into some territory that is sort of ambiguous because one of my strengths is input.

I like to collect a lot of different perspectives from folks and then sort of synthesize that and say, “Okay, given all that I know from the experts and my research and the data, it really seems like this is the best course of action.”

But it gets really tricky for me when I’m doing something new and then I’ve got five totally different voices saying totally different things. I go, “Ah, well shucks, now what?” I found myself in my entrepreneurial journey getting a little bit stuck in those zones.

It’s like, “Well, I guess it’s unclear and maybe I will have the presence of mind to push through and find the audacity to chart a new course, but other times it just takes way longer than it should to blast past that ambiguity.

Eric Barker
The thing about all of these personality traits like conscientiousness is that much like the overarching theory of success I have in the book, where it’s knowing yourself and then picking the right pond, it’s always it’s interaction with the environment. There’s not a singular this is always good and this is always bad.

Conscientiousness is a very powerful personality trait in most spheres in terms of earnings, in terms of successful marriages. Conscientiousness, being steady, predictable, consistent is very powerful. Yet, we can all imagine situations where we, perhaps in the arts, in media, in much more creative professions, where being a little too stickler or the rules probably would not benefit you as much.

All of these traits, whether they’re good or bad, and that’s going back to the issue of signature strengths and intensifiers depends on context.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm, I’m with you there. I also want to get your view here, when I’m exploring all this stuff in terms of where you fit best and maybe not so great a fit when it comes to the whole confidence game. What are your takes from the research in terms of sort of bad advice for boosting your confidence versus the evidence-based advice?

Eric Barker
The issue with confidence – first and foremost, it’s a very tricky – it’s a tricky issue to discuss because they don’t write a lot of books on reducing your confidence. Most people don’t say, “My confidence is way too high. How can I bring it down?”

It’s so one-sided in terms of everybody wants to boost their confidence and anything that you see written on the subject is talking about increasing your confidence. It’s a little one sided. It’s only one side of the court room actually has an attorney arguing for it.

But basically it’s interesting because there are strengths and weaknesses on both sides. We’re usually not aware of them because like I said because it’s often a one-sided conversation. Too much confidence is a bad thing. Overconfidence is not a compliment, nor is narcissism and hubris.

When people get too confident, the research basically shows that a) they don’t listen to anybody. They think they have all the answers to a very unhealthy, unproductive degree. Also, they become a jerk. They just don’t listen to anybody else and they generally don’t respect people. And they’re actually more likely to cheat and lie.

But the benefits of confidence, obviously, it makes us feel good, confidence. Nobody likes feeling uncertain. Also, confidence has an enormous, it’s undeniable that it has an enormous effect on how other people perceive you.

One of the studies I site in the book is that given a choice between a person with a great track record, who doesn’t seem very confident, and a person with a mediocre track record, who seems extremely confident, study subjects pick confidence over a great track record. They actually picked just the way the person conveyed themselves.

Basically like picking a stock trader who lost money, but seemed really confident versus somebody who consistently made money, but didn’t come off as confident. People trust confidence over expertise. On the flip side-

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, so you’re saying we’ve got multiple studies across multiple domains and stock picking is one example where the majority of folks-

Eric Barker
I was using stock picking as an example for clarity, but my point is that there’s research showing that people will choose the confident speaker with an inferior track record over the less confident speaker with the superior track record.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. In terms of you’re going to hire somebody for a role and – that is striking. Wow. That’s –

Eric Barker
Yeah, I think we’ve all seen examples of this where, “Hey, he didn’t have the greatest grades, but we really clicked in the interview,” or, “He really made an impression,” or, “She really just came across well,” that kind of ….

On the flip side, less confidence obviously doesn’t – clearly doesn’t make a very good impression on people and doesn’t make us feel good. However, it helps us learn. We’re far more open to new ideas. We’re far more likely to listen, to explore possibilities, and to grow when we don’t think we have all the answers.

The problem is that there’s benefits – there’s strengths and weaknesses to both sides. You see some people succeed by a form of double think, which there is no system to incorporate double think. But some people are great, like thinking about the athletes who can be completely deferential to their coach, work hard in training, and then when they show up on game day, they are 110% sure that they’re going to do it. If you can balance that, great.

But in looking at the research what I found actually was the best answer was that the entire confidence paradigm is actually problematic at its core because it puts us on this constant up and down, where we often feel like we need to prove ourselves to support our self-esteem.

What seems to be a superior answer was actually an ancient Buddhist concept which has been scientifically validated by Kristin Neff at the University of Texas at Austin called self-compassion, where instead of building ourselves up to this superhuman ridiculous level where we will inevitably fail, basically to try and see the world as realistically as possible, but to be forgiving with yourself when you fail, to be very realistic, but to be very compassionate toward yourself.

Actually, that allows you to see the world for what it is. You’re not overconfidently deluded. But on the other hand, you’re not punishing yourself when you fail and you’re open to new ideas because you’re not being unrealistic. Self-compassion actually seemed to be a better paradigm than self-confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that. This reminds me of – and I don’t know – you can tell me if there’s a scientific name for this concept, but it really seems related to this confidence matter.

I’ve seen it in myself and in others in terms of let’s say you do something the first time and you’re really concerned, like, “Okay, I’ve never done this before. I’ve really got to make sure,” I guess that’s my conscientiousness, “I really want to make sure that I nail it and I do it just right. I’m going to look very carefully at all of the instructions and the best practices, and research-based insights to do a fantastically good job.”

Then I do that thing. I’m thinking about putting on a leadership seminar once. I did that. I was in my role as the chairperson. It went great, so good, good, good stuff.

Then the next year, I did it again, but this time I had a completely different attitude or mindset, which was, “Oh yeah, we rocked this last year. This should be no problem.” Then I put in less effort and had less curiosity and less diligence associated with doing all the stuff and then actually had in some ways an inferior result in that event that I put together.

I’ve seen this in other people. The term I’ve coined for it is second-time syndrome. You’re doing it the second time and through overconfidence or any number of factors, you do it worse than you did the first time despite that experience would suggest we should have a superior outcome. Is there a name for that in science?

Eric Barker
I don’t know if there’s a name specifically for that, but I think basically what you’re talking about is the development of overconfidence. Is that your initial success was attributable to a great amount of effort and diligence, but then subsequently, you didn’t do the great amount of effort and diligence. You attributed it otherwise. Then without the handwork and diligence, you didn’t get the same result.

There’s actually a similar study that Dan Ariely did that shows that we’re prone to just that sort of thinking, where basically they did a study where they gave people a test and they actually deliberately made it easy to cheat.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. This one, huh?

Eric Barker
They made it easy to cheat on the test and they didn’t let people know that they would be monitoring this. They were able to monitor who cheated.

Anyway, they gave the test, some people cheated, some people didn’t. Obviously those who cheated did very well. Then they surveyed them after the fact and they said to people, “How do you think you would do on another test on this same subject matter?” The cheaters rated themselves as saying, “Oh, I think I would do great.”

What you’re seeing here is that they succeeded because of cheating, yet they somehow rationalize this into believing, “I’m actually good at this.” That’s something that I think is common.

It’s kind of like the example you’re positing, where you succeeded due to a lot of effort, diligence, and perhaps a fair amount of fear, and that really motivated you to work hard. Then we have this natural human instinct to be like, “Oh, well I must be like a like natural.” Then we don’t do the hard work and we find out that, well, actually it was the hard work that was responsible for the success.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. That was interesting. Netflix has a documentary that prominently features Dan Ariely.

Eric Barker
(Dis)Honesty or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that sounds right, yeah. I loved the scenes where it showed the fake shredders that only shredded like the fringes of the answer sheets they were turning in. I thought that was a brilliant little experimental maneuver there. It’s like, it sure looks and sounds like that thing has got shredded, but it wasn’t. I just thought that was awesome. Cool.

Maybe the last question perhaps. You unpack a bit of the secret ingredient how Navy Seals find that grit. Can you share what’s the master key to this?

Eric Barker
Yeah, this was – Navy Seals basically go through BUDS, which is Basic Underwater Demolition training. That’s the vetting process for Seals. After the tragedy of 9/11, the US military wanted more special operations troops like Seals, but obviously they didn’t want to lower the standards because that would defeat the purpose.

They had to commission a study basically to find what was it that separated psychologically those who got through the training versus those who didn’t because frankly, they didn’t know.

One of the key four things that really kept them going was positive self-talk, was basically we all have this voice in our head. We say hundreds of words to ourselves every minute and if those voices are positive, we tend to persist and if they’re negative, we tend to quit.

This aligns perfectly – I pointed at the Navy Seals as an example, but the underlying research that basically lines up with it pretty well done by Martin Seligman at University of Pennsylvania is that optimism is probably the strongest element of grit and resilience as we know it, having an optimistic attitude.

It makes intuitive sense. If you think things are going to work out, if you think you’re going to win at the roulette table, you keep playing. If you think you’re not, then you stop playing.

If we believe optimistically things are going to go well, we persist even when things are tough, even when it’s difficult, we keep going. Basically optimism and an optimistic attitude is probably the strongest predictor of whether people will be resilient through difficult challenges.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to get a little bit more precise when you talk about defining optimism. I’m thinking about Viktor Frankl’s work, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which there’s a bit of a distinction as opposed to, “Hey, we’re going to be rescued and saved out of this concentration camp next week, next month.” Then they’re disappointed and it falls apart.

Versus when you say optimism it sounds like you’re maybe in the ballpark of self-efficacy in terms of “I have a conviction that I will be successful in this endeavor,” is that fair.

Eric Barker
I think you’re making a really salient distinction, which is lying to yourself is not the path here. Merely telling yourself pretty lies is not the path here.

Pete Mockaitis
Tomorrow will be an easier day of BUDS.

Eric Barker
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Bad move.

Eric Barker
Yes. The big thing – the distinction that Seligman makes is basically he says what separates an optimistic attitude from a pessimistic attitude – he refers to them as the three P’s, which is seeing things that are positive as personal, pervasive and persistent.

In other words, optimists, when good things happen, they see them as personal, so I was responsible for this. They see it as persistent: this good thing will continue. They see it as pervasive: this good thing will affect many areas of my life.

However, when people have a pessimistic attitude is because they see negative things as personal, persistent, and pervasive.

What you really need to do is kind of a cognitive behavioral therapy style approach, which is we all have moments where we get pessimistic and we, “Oh, it’s all my fault. This problem is going to keep happening and it’s going to affect every area of my life.”

To actually question those thoughts – because we’ll just accept those thoughts because they’re in our head; they must be true, to actually stop and question them. To say, “This is really all my fault? No, it’s not all my fault. This is going to go on forever? No, it’s not going to go on forever? This is going to affect every area of my life? No, not every-“ To basically really question it.

Instead of saying just Pollyannaish, unrealistic lies to make ourselves feel better, if you look at those negatives, usually the negatives, we exaggerate those and to make those more realistic allows us to be more optimistic because we can say, “No, no, no, the reason I’m so upset, the reason I want to quit is because I’m exaggerating the negatives here and I’m not looking at the positives.” To be more objective and not to be overly dramatic in either direction.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect, thank you. Eric, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear some of your favorite things?

Eric Barker
No, nothing specific. We can move on to the next phase.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, how about you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Eric Barker
One of my favorite quotes is the William Gibson quote I mentioned, where he said that “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”

I think that what’s really critical there is just having a little bit of resourcefulness in terms of this resourcefulness is a quality that I really appreciate that people don’t give enough attention to. A lot of the answers are out there, but usually we just shrug our shoulders and we stop.

To realize that usually if you’re asking a question, someone else has asked it. If you spend a little bit of time, you might be able to get the answer or get yourself closer to it. I think that’s something really powerful to think about.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. How about a favorite study? It seems you’ve gotten enchanted by so many. Does one really stick with you?

Eric Barker
I guess something I’ve read recently that really moved me was the idea that if you try to be happier and you live in the United States or the UK and you make a concerted, deliberate effort to be happier, you will fail. The reason for that – however, if you live in Russia, China, Japan, you will succeed.

The reason for that is that so much of what makes us happy is relationships with other people, yet the cultures of the United States and the United Kingdom are very individualistic cultures, meaning that usually when we try to make ourselves happier, we focus on our selves: be yourself, do your own thing, so the efforts we make are usually in the wrong direction, if we live in the US and the UK.

We need to think socially.  We need to think more collectivist countries. Ironically, when people do the usual things to try to make themselves happier in the US and UK, they fail spectacularly. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be happier. It just means we need to think a little bit differently than the concepts that our culture usually promotes.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Eric Barker
Favorite book, there’s so many. There is – I’m trying to think. One that I’ve read recently that I thought was pretty spectacular was – I definitely like Mark Manson’s, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F. I won’t use the full word there.

It is for people who are curious about Buddhism and a lot of the happiness concepts that have come out of that, it is a very accessible way to look at – one of the main ideas Mark describes in there, which I found useful, is basically he says for people to look through the lens of the idea of what challenges, what pain are you comfortable with.

Because some of us there are difficulties that we don’t like to have to deal with and there are other difficulties that we’re – some people are more comfortable with failure, but they have a short attention span and they’re not good with persistence. They’ll be happy to try lots of things and if they fail at 90% of them, but succeed at 10, they’re good.

Other people are really good at persistence, but they hate failure, so drilling down, grinding away for years is an option for them. To realize what kind of suffering are you comfortable with as opposed to saying, “What do I want? What’s my big grand dream?” Well, it’s going to take a lot of work. If it’s a big grand dream, it’s going to take a lot of work to get there.

Then to ask yourself, “Okay, what challenges, what suffering am I comfortable with?” can ask if you really are ready for that challenge or maybe a better challenge would suit you. I think it’s a very interesting perspective to look through.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Eric Barker
Favorite tool. Well that would have to be my Mac Book.

Pete Mockaitis
Not the Pro, not the Air, Mac Book straight up?

Eric Barker
It is a Pro, but I used to love my Air, but now they’re all getting so small and thin, that I’m not sure how much of a distinction there is anymore. I love the Air, but right now I have a Pro. I don’t know. They’re pretty amazing.

But if there’s one tool I could definitely not live without, especially given what I do, it would definitely be my Mac Book.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, and how about a favorite habit?

Eric Barker
Favorite habit, reading. Man, that one’s really paid off for me. I highly recommend – I’m kind of like an athlete saying they like to exercise.

For me, it’s something I love doing. I often joke or half joke that a lot of the work I do is just the exhaust that comes out of my natural habit of wanting to read, wanting to learn and then that machine, which is going to run anyway, happens to produce this exhaust which luckily I’ve found some weird way to make a career out of. I’m very, very grateful for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, we appreciate your exhaust. Thank you for sharing it.

Eric Barker
…. Sorry, I’m destroying the environment.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d also like to get your take, you shared a lot of things with a lot of people, is there a particular nugget or quotable gem that is attributable to you or maybe just even reformulated, restated by you, that really does seem to resonate with folks. They retweet it. They take notes upon it when you utter it. What’s something that really seems to stick?

Eric Barker
That valedictorian study, again, I didn’t do the research, really seems to resonate with people and the self-compassion concept really seems to resonate with people.

The idea of not having to lie, not having to brag, not having to blow yourself up, not having to be a jerk, but emphasizing forgiving yourself. I think that’s a concept that’s really resonated with people, especially lately is the idea that forgiving yourself is more important than blowing up your … to insane proportions.

Pete Mockaitis
Eric, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Eric Barker
Given that as we established the URL is hard to pronounce, hard to spell, hard to – not the best marketing choice on my part, happy to grant you that one. If they want to see my blog, there’s a new post every week, which is a deep dive on some evidence-based way to improve your life.

Basically Googling my name, Eric Barker, that will come up and signing up for my weekly email is the best way to keep up with what I’m doing. The book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, is available on Amazon and any of the other major book sellers.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. Eric, do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Eric Barker
I would point to a piece of advice that a former Harvard researcher and now bestselling author, Shawn Achor, told me that he had done research that basically said when you go into the office first thing, first thing you do, sit down and send an email thanking somebody, showing gratitude.

Simply doing that gives people a boost in happiness and there’s plenty of research I’ve cited on the blog before that shows how you start the day, dramatically affects how the rest of the day goes. The challenge I would give people is first thing in the office, send an email, and send someone a sincere thank you email. Try that for a few days, see if it helps you out.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Eric, this has been such a treat. Please keep generating the great things you produce. The exhaust has a fragrant and a lovely aroma. It’s been a lot of fun.

Eric Barker
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it Pete.

297: Encouraging Insight Through More Coach-like Conversations with Michael Bungay Stanier

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Michael Bungay Stanier returns to talk about become more coach-like by staying curious longer and giving advice a bit more slowly.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we more naturally give advice rather than ask questions
  2. The questions effective coaches ask
  3. How to deal with the uncoachable

About Michael

Michael Bungay Stanier is the founder of Box of Crayons, a company best known for teaching 10-minute coaching so that busy managers can build stronger teams and get better results. On the way to founding Box of Crayons in 2002, Michael lived in Australia, England, the United States and Canada, his current home. He has written a number of books. His latest, the Wall Street Journal bestseller The Coaching Habit, has sold over 350,000 copies. It has been praised as one of the few business books that actually makes people laugh out loud. He was the first Canadian Coach of the Year, is a Rhodes Scholar, and was recently recognized as the #3 Global Guru in coaching. Balancing out these moments of success, Michael was banned from his high school graduation for “the balloon incident,” was sued by one of his law school lecturers for defamation, and his first published piece of writing was a Harlequin romance short story called “The Male Delivery.”

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael Bungay Stanier Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, welcome back to the How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It is lovely to be back. This is will be fun. I can just feel it in my bones that this is going to be a great conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
I feel it too. The last one was so fun and you’re too kind for coming back. I was but a newbie, only 55 episodes in back then. I misspelled your name. I kind of had some facts about you wrong. And you came back for more, what a sport.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It all made me sound much more interesting than I am, calling me Nigel Bungay Stanier is odd, but I flew with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Nigel, it’s among the most sophisticated and intellectual of options. I realized last time we never talked about the balloon incident in your high school. I think that’s important to get on the record over here.

Michael Bungay Stanier
You’re right. In my bio it says ‘was banned from his high school graduation for the balloon incident.’ Here’s my decision on this. I’m never going to tell what that is actually about. But I’ll tell you what, Pete. The truth is the story itself is actually less exciting and enticing than that awesome one-liner sounds.

It is true that I was banned from my high school graduation for the balloon incident, but I want to leave it up to people’s imagination, just what can one man do with some balloons that is significant that he is not allowed to then graduate from his high school, where, by the way, I won prized and I did this and I did that and they still wouldn’t let me participate in the ceremony. I’m just going to tantalize people with that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so intrigued and I am tantalized. In a way I can kind of relate. You’re a Rhodes Scholar, yes?

Michael Bungay Stanier
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
An impressive intellect. You’d think they’d want to honor one of their best and brightest during the big day. I’m going to just imagine that the balloon ended up destroying an expensive piece of equipment. That’s what I have in my imagination.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I can neither confirm nor deny that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, well I’m going to roll with that for now.

We talked way back in episode 55 and we kind of got the basics of what your book The Coaching Habit is all about. It’s since become much more of a smash hit now than it was before.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Tell us a little bit about living that life. When you hit 1,000 Amazon reviews does Jeff Bezos come by your house or-?

Michael Bungay Stanier
He does, yeah. Exactly. In fact Jeff got my name tattooed on to his arm in celebration of the book. No, that didn’t happen.

The book is a little over two years old now. It launched February the 29th 2016 because February the 29th, why wouldn’t I choose that date. It has gone from strength to strength. It’s about 400,000 copies sold. It’s constantly in the top 1,000 books sold on Amazon, which is exciting.

In fact last week it got up to the number six book overall on Kindle books on Amazon. Number one in the business category. To all of your audience, they don’t care about this, but I was geeking out about this.

As you said, we’ve got over 1,000 reviews on Amazon. In fact, we’ve now got over 1,000 five-star reviews. It’s just a well-received book that we worked really hard to write and publicize and all of that. But somewhere along the lines someone sprinkled fairy dust into the mix and so it’s just going gangbusters. It’s very exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so good. I’d like to maybe first get your take when it comes to –you say the word coaching, could you get us oriented a little bit in terms of what you mean, what you don’t mean and any kind of preconceptions you want to make it clear that you are not that?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, it’s a great question and I’m going to just tweak it a little bit and frame it up.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so coach-like of you.

Michael Bungay Stanier
That is right. The purpose of this book, even though coaches love it, is actually not to make people into coaches. It’s to help people be more coach-like.

Because actually the person that I had in mind when I wrote this book, and I will say the people more broadly than this, but the person I desperately had in mind was you are a busy, engaged manager. You are doing the best you can, but you are a bit overwhelmed. You are a bit stuck. You’re not …. The one who got the next leap forward is for you to have more impact and find more meaning in the work that you do.

This is the person who I imagine, she goes up to the airport book store, she sees the book there, she picks it up, she goes, “I could read this”. It’s a short, interesting looking book and she finds a tool to help her be more coach-like.

What do I mean by more coach-like? Here’s the thing. I boil it down to a very simple behavior and it is this, can you stay curious a little bit longer, can you rush to action and advice giving just a little bit more slowly.

Now you can talk about coaching in different ways. In the book I talk about a coaching cycle and that’s a new insight typically generated by good question, an insight about yourself or about the situation leads to a positive behavior change. In other words you do something differently.

Positive behavior change leads to increased impact, hopefully positive increased impact, which in turn leads back around to new insight about yourself and about the situation. That’s kind of the dynamic of what coaching is.

I like John Whitmore’s definition of coaching more broadly which is helping people learn rather than teaching them, helping them to unlock their own potential. I think that’s really nice.

But all of that stuff is a bit abstract, a bit theoretical. I just love keeping it at a behavior change level, which is can you stay curious a little bit longer, can you rush action and advice giving a little bit more slowly because I think most people are advice giving maniacs. They love it.

They’re trigger wired to actually leap in with ideas, suggestions, solutions, ways you should do it even when they have no idea what’s actually going on. We’re just trying to shift that behavior just a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s very handy. Then you lay out some excellent questions that are powerful and flexible. That’s where we spent most of our time in the last conversation. How about I take a crack at doing maybe a two-minute summary and you can tell me all the ways that I’ve grossly mischaracterized your opus.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m quietly confident you’re totally going to nail this, so take it away. The seven questions from the coaching heaven. Drumroll please.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, it’s on.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Pete, number one is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, the opening question, what’s on your mind that enables you to focus the conversation and position your partner to do the thinking?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect, and get into the juicy stuff fast. Sometimes it’s like… it’s like trying to chat somebody up at a bar. You know once you get into it, it’s going to be fine, but what’s the question that gets you into it.

We call this the quick start question, which is how do you accelerate into a more interesting conversation more quickly. That’s perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Then there’s the AWE question, which is actually a mini-acronym. It stands for And What Else. That helps you get into further depth and seeing really where they’re coming from with that.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect. We call it the best coaching question in the world in part because it gives juice to every other question and you’ve got to know that their first answer is never their only answer and it’s rarely their best answer, but secondly, it is a self-management tool to help you stay curious a little bit longer because if you’re asking anyone else, you’re not giving advice.

Pete Mockaitis
Then there’s the lazy question, how can I help. Well, it’s lazy because you don’t have to figure out how you can help. You can just give up and let them figure that out for you. But that actually helps eliminate redundancy and make your contributions all the more on point anyway.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, I love that. The insight that people tend to leap in and start fixing things before they really know what’s going on, the lazy question is a great anecdote to that. Now I think the lazy question in the book is number five or number six. Can you remember what number three is?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, maybe I’m out of order.

Michael Bungay Stanier
The focus question.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
The focus question is what’s the real challenge here.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Kind of focusing in on the main thing.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, and if you want to make that really powerful, you don’t just ask what’s the challenge here, you don’t just ask what’s the real challenge here, you ask what’s the real challenge here for you. That ‘for you’ on the end of it is a way of spinning the spotlight from the problem to the person solving the problem. It becomes a deeper, more powerful, more useful conversation right away.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Then – well, now my numbers, I don’t even know.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Number four, which is the foundation question.

Pete Mockaitis
What do you want?

Michael Bungay Stanier
You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like I’m in school. Praise me, Michael.

Michael Bungay Stanier
You nailed it. It’s classic. You’re amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. That’s sort of that get after the primary goal and focusing your energy there. A lot of people don’t even know what they want.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect. The next question is the strategic question.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s just sort of like an opportunity cost. If I say yes to this, what do I say no to?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. Where are you powerful? It connects actually to a previous book I wrote called Do More Brave Work, which basically says three types of work in this world. Everything you do falls into one of these three buckets.

It’s either bad work  mind-numbing, soul-sucking, life-crushing work. It’s either good work, your job description in short  productive, efficient, effective, getting things done, but also keeps you stuck in a bit of comfortable rut. Or it’s great work, work that has more impact, work that has more meaning.

When it comes down to it, the coaching question, the strategic question, what am I going to say yes to, if I’m saying yes to that, what must I say no to, is actually the core question that lies behind helping you and everyone do more great work.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Then the final one is the learning question. What did I take away from this conversation?

Michael Bungay Stanier
You got it, exactly. There’s variations on that. The variation I use most often was what is most useful and most valuable here for you. Not only forces them to get … from the conversation and a … that they may well otherwise miss, but also beneficiary, it gets you feedback as to what went well in that conversation, so the next conversation is going to be even more effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. There we are, we’re all on the same page in terms of what are the questions. Now I really want to know having lived it, worked with many, many clients, many, many readers, what are you noticing in terms of in practice what is really working well and what is not working so well when folks are trying to adopt a coaching habit?

Michael Bungay Stanier We picked seven questions. You can guess that I think they’re the best seven questions. I spent a lot of time adding questions, subtracting questions, putting more questions in, trying to do fewer questions. But I think these are seven really powerful, useful questions.

But in the end it matters less which question you pick and more about can you commit to staying curious a little bit longer. It’s worth looking at the things people struggle with, which is actually that behavior change. Why do people, when they’re rushing and give solutions, give answers, give ideas so quickly into the conversation?

Well, there’s an obvious answer, which is it’s habit. This is the thing that for your entire career basically your entire life because in high school and university as well, you’ve been praised and rewarded for having the answer. You have a pretty deep habit here of the way I add value, the way I get an A, the way I get a star, the way I get a pat on the back is by being the person with the answer.

It’s fair to say that on that kind of top level, the reason why being more coach-like is so hard is just that we’ve been practicing other stuff for years and years and years now.

But there’s a deeper level, Pete. I think that’s interesting to uncover. It’s where your question takes me is there’s a more subtle reason why people don’t want to become more coach-like, in other words, stay curious a little bit longer, rush to action and advice giving a little bit more slowly, is that it’s about power and control. Those two things that typically just below the surface in most relationships at work and at home as well.

Because when you’re giving the answer, it’s a pretty nice place to be. You feel like you’re the smart person. You feel like you have high status in the conversation. You’re the one with the answer; they’re the one with the question. You know what’s happening; they don’t know what’s happening. You feel in control of the conversation. You know how it’s playing out. You know how it’s going to end. You really go, I love giving advice.

Here’s the thing, even if your advice isn’t nearly as good as you think it is, which almost always is the case, even if you’re giving advice about the wrong thing, it still feels pretty good to give advice. However, when you ask a question – and questions are the portals toward staying curious a little bit longer – when you ask a question, it’s a much less comfortable experience.

First of all you hand control of the conversation to that other person. They’re going to take it some place that you don’t quite know where. By the way, this is what’s called empowerment. Nobody makes a strong case about I’m anti-empowerment. But the subtlety of empowerment is actually giving up power to the other person. That’s what’s happening when you ask a question.

When you ask a question, you actually move from a place of certainty to uncertainty. You step into this place of going, was that a good question, did that land, did they understand it, what answer are they going to give me, how do I handle that answer, what’s going to happen next. There’s all these uncertainties.

Part of our brain wiring is avoid uncertainty. Uncertainty is how you get eaten by a dinosaur or saber tooth tiger or wooly mammoth or something.

It takes practice and kind of overcoming some of your wiring to say, I’m going to ask a question, I’m going to give up control, I’m give up certainty, I’m going to stay in ambiguity for the longer game, the longer game of empowering those around you, increasing focus and productivity, and self-sufficiency, and accountability, and all of those good things.

It’s actually going to help me work less hard, but have more impact because I’m going to have a smarter, braver, more courageous, more focused team around me. But in the moment, it’s just really tempting to resort back to the advice giving.

When you ask kind of what’s worked, what’s not worked, the questions work. We’ve done this with 70 – 80,000 managers now plus the 400,000 people who bought the book. We know these are good questions but the struggle is the behavior change. That’s the thing for people to work on.

But actually, I’m just going to say one other thing, just one other things about, don’t tell anybody else, but we’ve just released kind of on stealth mode an app onto iTunes. It’s called Ask More. It’s only available for the iPhone.

Pete Mockaitis
We won’t tell.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Don’t tell anybody. But it’s a Tinder meets coaching. It’s a way of tracking your own commitment to being more coach-like. Swipe left, I gave advice. Swipe right, I stayed curious. You actually get to track your own practice like that.

We haven’t really made a big deal about that, but if people want to go and check it out, they’re welcome to kind of test it a bit for us and give us some feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. Thank you. We’ll definitely link to that in the show notes. I’m intrigued. It’s about the behavior change and part of the behavior I guess is just doing it in the first place, like just choosing to ask the question instead of giving advice.

Then I’m also thinking about when you spoke to that notion of power, I guess I’m thinking about how you ask the question too. Because as you described it, it’s true, there are times I’ve asked questions and I was entering that vulnerable place of “Okay, what’s going to happen. I don’t quite know.”

There are other times I’ve asked a question and I’ve still felt very much confident and empowered. It’s just like, “I’m just segmenting you. You’re going to give me one of four answers and based upon that I will proceed to give you the appropriate advice.” They’re very different experiences.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I think you’re right. The thing that I think is the subtlety here and the thing to bear in mind is to go for who’s sake am I asking this particular question.

It’s one of the reasons why in general we encourage people to stay away from the idea of asking why questions. Obviously why questions have their place. If people … you start with why. It’s all about being a purpose-driven company. Fantastic. Some of you may know the ladder of inference. You ask why five times to get a root cause of a situation. Perfect.

But in terms of every day interactions with people, asking why doesn’t work so well. Here’s why. The first is it’s actually quite tricky to ask the question why without it sounding a bit accusatory, a bit judgmental. “Why did you do that?” will typically be heard as, “Why the hell did you do that?” You’ve got that.

But the second thing and this feed to that more subtle reason about for whose sake are you asking this question. If you’re asking why, what you’re really doing is explain your motives, explain your thinking, explain what was going on for you. What you’re typically doing is you’re trying to gather data so that you are better able to then provide advice as to what the person should do.

Our approach in our corporate training programs is basically we’ve got three principles  be lazy, be curious, be often.

Being curious, of course, managing the advice monster, that tendency we have to leap to advice. Being often, understanding that every interaction can be a little more curious, a little less rush to action and advice.

But being lazy, is this piece about going how do I stop talking responsibility for that other person’s life. In that asking why, you’ve got somebody working out how do I figure out what’s going on, so I can give the better answer. I can jump in and fix you for you. As opposed to saying, “Hey Pete, big challenge ahead of you, but this is your challenge, so let me help you figure it out.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I’d also love to get your take then when folks are having troubles with the implementation or making the shift. Have you encountered any other surprises like, “Huh, how about that? When people are doing this, this sort of thing keeps popping up.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
It’s a good question. I would say that one of the points of resistance to coaching is the fear that you will inverted commas ‘go too far,’ like I’m going to ask a question that will make this person reveal their dark, and terrible, and sad, and horrible past, and I won’t know how to handle that.

What happens in kind of subtle ways people go, “I’m not going to ask Pete this question because he probably can’t handle it.” But what they’re often saying is, “I’m not going to ask Pete this question because I probably can’t handle it. I don’t know where it’s going, I don’t know what this is going to reveal, I don’t know what this is about.”

We kind of make up this, “Oh, look how nice I am to protect this person from themselves,” when in fact it’s really just a justification to step away from having the courageous conversation.

It was a bit of a rambling answer, but I do think there’s something to say for people … who like, “I’d like to give this a go, I just don’t know,” is it’s an art, not a science. What you’re doing is you’re practicing staying curious.

What you’ll find is you can ask more questions than you thought and that will make more progress then you thought possible if you can just follow the discipline and ask a good question, be genuinely interested in what the answer is, and shut up and actually listen to that answer.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And courage, I think yeah, that’s the word. I guess depending on your state of mind as you talk about some of these stakes that show up and what can unfold. I guess sometimes I’m thinking, “Oh, how exciting. Let’s see where this goes,” other times I’m like, “Oh, how terrifying. I don’t know where this is going to go.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. Right. You’re pointing to it perfectly which is, “Oh my goodness, where is this going? Ah.” Okay, but if you’re in service to the person you’re having conversation with, I think of this as a classic example of servant leadership. If you’re in true service to this person, you’re going to go, “Right, how do I help? How can I be of service? How do I put my discomfort aside so that other person can find something valuable here?”

Pete Mockaitis
I heard you on Todd Henry show, The Accidental Creative. He was on our show recently. I’m using the past tense. I’m assuming it will air before this one airs. Awesome guy. I love the definition you shared about what is it to be an adult or to have an adult conversation.

Michael Bungay Stanier
This caters nicely to that fourth question, the foundation question  what do you want. You could say that Box of Crayons, we have this focus of teaching 10-minute coaching, so busy managers can build stronger teams and get better results.

But behind that is a commitment to help people build adult-to-adult relationships in the work place. How do you show up as a grownup in your own life knowing that institutions work really hard to overturn that dynamic? They much prefer a feel like a parent-child relationship rather than an adult-to-adult relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that because folks will just do what they’re told and cause less headaches for everybody?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah. I think they think it means about it’s about being compliant so we get forced into – do we get forced – the culture encourages us to sometimes be the parent, sometimes be the child.

But it’s harder to show up as an adult because with an adult – and I take this from Peter Bock, who taught me about this. He’s saying, “Look, when you’re an adult, you take responsibility for your own freedom.” You take responsibility for the choices you have in front of you and you take those choices.

When you make those choices, … experience of an adult is you have the liberation of owning your own life, but when you make choices it comes with both guilt and anxiety. Guilt about, “What about those other options that I turned down? What’s going to happen to them?” Anxiety about “Is this the right choice? What if this choice doesn’t play out?”

For me, talking about your question, a nice way I heard of defining an adult-to-adult relationship is can you ask for what you want knowing that the answer may be no.

I would say that for many of us, we often don’t know what we want. We haven’t done that thinking, that work, that kind of connecting to heart, mind, soul. We’re not good at asking for what we want even if we know it. We’re not good at hearing other people’s requests and knowing that we can say yes or no to those requests.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s potent stuff there. I’m wondering about maybe the why and it’s I guess just fear. It’s like if you do know what you want and you don’t ask for it, what’s underneath that is probably the sensation of if I hear a no then this dream has been murdered. There’s no hope for it.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Right, yeah. I think that’s absolutely right. Then you find yourself trading away your life for the temporary comfort of not pushing for what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this got deep.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. It suddenly got deep. Come on everybody, lighten up for goodness sake.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to get your take here to shift gears a bit, I’ve heard the term often when I was in consulting about how one should be coachable. It’s great to be coachable and “Oh, you know, she’s not so coachable. Oh, be coachable.” This is a word I hear a lot of.

What’s your take having done a lot of coaching, helped a lot of people be more coach-like? Are some people uncoachable? How does one become more coachable? What is to be done with this?

Michael Bungay Stanier
That is a good question. I’ve been wrestling with this myself. I think people are – there are some people who are in that moment uncoachable.

Pete Mockaitis
In the moment, okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m sure I’ve been uncoachable in moments myself.

What does that mean? I think it means that you’re – if you think of the outcome of coaching being new insights leading to new actions, leading to increased impact, it means that you’re unwilling to let in new insights. It means that you’re unwilling to try something new and try a different behavior; therefore that increasing impact isn’t going to be available to you, certainly not in a more mindful, deliberate way.

Yeah, I think it’s probably easy enough to be uncoachable.

You can frame it in another way, which is like if you think about the bell curve. In the one end you’ve got people who are the keeners, who are like, “Oh man, I love this coaching stuff. I’m all over it.” You’ve got people in the middle who are like, “I’m open to it, but I’m not sure.”

Then you’ve got people on the other end who you could call them the cynics. I think there’s some sort of Greek – the translation of what a cynic is. Is this right? It’s something along the lines of – and this is probably not suitable for work – but it’s like doglike, meaning like a dog you lift your leg and you pee on things.

The cynics tend to have already made up their minds about what’s going to happen and nothing’s going to convince them otherwise.

Skeptics on the other hand, I quite like. Skeptics are people who are like, “You know what? I’ve had my heart broken too many times, but secretly I would love this to work because if it works, I’m going to be a great champion for it. I’m just suspicious because I’ve heard the promises before.” But cynics like you’ve already decided this is going to be bad and it’s hard to work with cynics.

That answers part of your question which is are people uncoachable. I think some people are some of the time. I don’t think that means you’re uncoachable for the rest of your life.

Then what does it take to be coach-like. Well, if you come back to that definition of insight, action, impact, I think, in general, it’s a willingness to allow insights to show up and it’s a willingness to move to action and try something new.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. I’d love to hear, when you’re sharing this with folks, because I imagine listeners are all excited like, “Oh yeah, we’re to do this in our group. It’s going to be great.” Then if they do encounter a cynic or a wet blanket or those who say that is very – “That coaching stuff, that feels very touchy feely. That feels very California. You know what? We’ve got a lot of tasks we’ve got to knock out now, now, now. There’s urgency.”

I’m sure you’ve heard all the resistance points as your team is selling the good stuff How do you – if folks are feeling like they’re not feeling it, sort of entice them with a little bit of curiosity and openness, so we can take a little bit of a step?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Part of it is a bigger approach to coaching, which is we rarely try and push coaching on people because people are too busy, people are skeptical, people have baggage around coaching which I totally get.

The metaphor I offer up is it’s a little bit like trying to feed a two-year-old spinach. One of the options is you put a lump of spinach on the two-year-olds plate and go, “Hey, eat the green, slimy vegetable.” For some reason the two-year-old is going to go, “You know what? I’m just not eating your spinach. Sorry about that.”

I’m not a parent, but I’ve heard it said that smart parents take the spinach and they blend it into the spaghetti sauce and they actually eat, so the kid doesn’t even know that they’re actually eating the spinach.

I think my approach to being more coach-like, which I’m differentiating from coaching. Different to stay curious than it is to say, “Alright Pete, come into my office. I’m going to coach you now,” which is slightly terrifying for everybody.

Being more coach like means staying curious a little bit longer. Really it’s just another way of having a conversation. If you can just slow down that rush to action and advice, stay curious a bit longer, you’re going to have a coaching experience whether you want to particularly label it being more coach-like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, got it. Cool. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your latest favorite things?

Michael Bungay Stanier
No, I think we – I mean we’ve gone to some interesting places already.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Can you share with us then a favorite quote, something that’s been inspiring you lately?

Michael Bungay Stanier
My quotes all tend to circulate around the giving a strong yes or making a no. The – oh, I’ve forgotten his name. The guy who created CD Baby. He says, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” In terms of thinking about commitment, I think that can be great.

I’ve got a quote on my desk from Charles Bukowski, who’s a poet, something similar it says, “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start.” I’m like exactly that. That’s a quote that’s … in Box of Crayons we’re writing strategic planning moments, so we’re thinking what are big gambles are for the next couple of years.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, can you share a favorite study, something that you find quite insightful?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, I’ve just had the luxury of coming back from the TED conference in Vancouver. Part of what TED is about is to both in kind of equal parts inspire you and terrify you as to what’s happening in the world. One of the studies that could be see business leaders and educators talking, but sometimes it’s scientists and engineers as well.

One of the guys who got up and talked, and I’m sure this will be released eventually as a TED talk, was basically saying, “I’ve just –” you know how DNA has four letters to it  G, T, C, and A and that’s the alphabet that makes up our entire life. What he’s done is found two additional letters to add to that so that there are now six letters rather than four letters.

Very engaged and he’s all sorts of and this is how it gets contained, but he’s actually showing us slides of synthetic life that he’s made in this tweaked DNA. I have to say that’s a pretty amazing thing to reflect on. How’s that going to work?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That just sort of stretches the brain into whole new places it’s never been before.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, it totally does.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Michael Bungay Stanier
I am going back to a book that I read some years ago, but I’ve just pulled it out again recently. I’m just reaching over to my bookshelf there. It’s by Carl Honore and it’s called In Praise of Slow.

It kind of talks about the slow travel movement and the slow food movement and just a reflection that so much of our life and our pace and the complexity of everything is only ratcheting up. Somebody said to me today, your life will never be less complex than it is today. I’m like, “Oh, that’s depressing.” It feels pretty complicated already. That book, In Praise of Slow, I think is an interesting read.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m not sure if you’d call this a tool or not, but it’s my attempts to shut down my technology, so it’s like an anti-tool. I don’t have the discipline I would love to have to not check my phone as much and not check my laptop as much.

On my phone, I’ve recently removed a lot of the key apps. I have removed my email app and I’ve removed the Facebook app, and I’ve removed my Asana to-do app. It just means that my phone is now useful for a few things and useless for much of things. I’m trying to remove all the areas where I get easily seduced into behavior that is I feel less useful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, any other favorite habits to speak to?

Michael Bungay Stanier
The only habit that I can consistently maintain is making myself an espresso coffee every morning. All sorts of like meditation and journaling and stuff, it ebbs and it flows a little bit, but my main habit  drink two good espressos early on in the morning. Not very useful to most people I’m afraid.

Pete Mockaitis
It had its purpose. It has its place, its value. Is there a particular nugget that you’ve been sharing that’s really been connecting, resonating, getting note taken, retweeted, etcetera?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, the conversation within Box of Crayons, I’m not sure of this is echoing beyond that. Most of the stuff that tends to be repeated and resaid around social media tends to be around The Coaching Habit book at the moment. People have heard about that.

This comes a part of being in TED again and watching Peter Diamandes who created the X Prize, the thing about trying to get a private company to land a machine on the moon. He is very much about the bold scalability of things. It’s like what’s the 10x version of that.

The thing that is kind of echoing around Box of Crayons at the moment is how do we imagine what 10x’ing some of the projects that we have on the go might be. We don’t really have good answers to any of that, but it’s making us think really hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome, thank you. Michael, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Michael Bungay Stanier
If you’re interested in the book, The Coaching Habit book, TheCoachingHabit.com is the place for that. You can download the first two or three chapters and get podcasts and tools and other kind of stuff to pillage from the website, so you’re welcome to go there. Obviously the book is available in Amazon and elsewhere.

If you’re interested in our program for your organization, need to do corporate training, so that’s BoxOfCrayons.com.

If you’re interested in just a little bit more about me and what I’m up to and some tools outside practical coaching skills, my full name MichaelBungayStanier, my surname is Bungay-Stanier, .com is the place to go for there.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yes. What’s the bottom 10% that you’re going to eliminate?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now 10% of I guess, of what?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Percent of people, of activities, of-

Michael Bungay Stanier
People can go any way they want with that, but there’s a bottom 10% in some area you could pick which is limiting you and the courageous act is to eliminate that bottom 10%, so what do you want to do?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about the bottom 10% in my refrigerator.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That would be a courageous act to get in there.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. That thing that was formerly known as lettuce probably isn’t anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Michael, this has been a great deal of fun yet again.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It has.

Pete Mockaitis
Please keep doing the great work you’re doing for the world.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Thanks man, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

296: Working with a Recruiter 101 with Korn Ferry’s Julie Forman

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Korn Ferry partner Julie Forman shares how to leverage recruiters and executive search consultants as you manage your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Pro-tips for becoming more visible to recruiters
  2. Do’s and don’ts when speaking with recruiters
  3. When a pay bump isn’t worth it

About Julie

Julie Forman is a Partner with Executive Search Firm, Korn Ferry International where she is a member of the Firm’s Global Industrial practice and Marketing Center of Excellence.

She joined Korn Ferry following a 15 years career with GE where she’s held senior roles on both the Industrial and Capital sides with her last position being Head of Strategic Marketing for GE in Canada.

She focuses today on recruitment and leadership consulting mandates for industrial organizations going through critical inflection points requiring upscaling of strategic capabilities, shift in focus and transformational leadership. She is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt and Change Management Coach.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Julie Forman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Julie, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Julie Forman

Thanks, Pete. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m so excited for this chat. And I’m curious to learn, first of all, since you’ve hunted many heads, recruited many people, how did you end up finding me?

Julie Forman

Well, it is through the beauty of LinkedIn. I was looking for some various leadership experts and your name came across. And I thought you had an interesting background, and just sent you a request to connect to keep you in my network. And you had started a conversation, which I happily took part of.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, yeah, it’s so fun because usually LinkedIn connection is just like, “Okay, cool”, and then maybe they sit there for a long, long time. But right away, you were so interested in engaging and shared some great tips. And I’m eager to dig in and share them with the broad world.

Julie Forman

Excellent. Well, I’m looking forward to that.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, and I understand you’re often asked so I’ll ask as well. What made you leave GE where you were for quite a while and go on over to Korn Ferry?

Julie Forman

Well, so as a lot of people in the executive search business, sometimes some of them, they’ve grown up in the industry, others have come from management consulting, and others, like me, have had an executive career before. And in my case, although I loved GE and spent many years and had an awesome time, at one point, I live in Montreal and with the company’s evolution, there just weren’t anymore roles that I thought would be my next stop here. And so, I had to take the leap of faith and follow one of my ex-colleagues who I happen to love, and who sometimes knows me better than I know myself, and thought that this would be a perfect job for me, a perfect follow-on career. And he is right. It is great. It leverages a lot of the skills that sometimes I think I didn’t even know I had myself. So it’s a lot of fun every day, and I get to work with one of my great friends, so that’s an added bonus.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. And I have great respect for Korn Ferry, and we had your CEO in episode 273. And I’m excited for our conversation because it sounds like you have shared a lot with people in terms of working with a recruiter 101.

Julie Forman

Yeah, for sure. One of the aspects of having had a corporate career before as myself when I switched careers, I didn’t realize how little I knew about the industry and how invisible I actually was. And so, as I go through working with different people, obviously I tend to work with C-suite and above, but I love working with up-and-coming talent as well and telling them how to leverage recruiters and executive search consultants, and how to think about it as you manage your career.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, maybe let’s start real basic from the beginning. You said “recruiters” and “executive search consultants” or “headhunters.” Are these terms interchangeable, or how would you orient us to the words themselves?

Julie Forman

So the industry’s pretty wide, and it’s one where there aren’t a lot of barriers to entry. So I think one of your previous guests had mentioned 16,000 executive recruitment firm placement agencies. Basically, when you look at the ecosystem, there’s two different models. There is the contingency model – basically being paid when you place a candidate, which tends to cater to more staff-level positions. And then you have the executive search group that is a retained model, so more closely aligned to management consulting, where we are tasked with building specific strategies, solving talent challenges for our clients. And so you will find different firms that focus on the different types of recruitment. Now, obviously there is overlap, but typically, the more senior positions will be on the retained model.

Pete Mockaitis

And when you say “retained model”, that’s just how folks get paid a flat monthly fee for your ongoing services?

Julie Forman

Well, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of different variation to that.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Julie Forman

But it’s more like consulting. So, when you hire a consultant and you have them redesign your whole plant, whether or not you implement those changes, you still owe the consultant for the work. So it’s the same way we do, it’s the same thing in recruitment – there is that notion of upfront work. Now, obviously we wouldn’t be in the business if we didn’t end up placing people, so we tend to be very successful at finding what we’re looking for. But the idea is there.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And so, maybe we’ll start really basic. So why would a typical professional maybe not yet at the executive levels choose to use a recruiter? They might say, “Oh, we’re just putting another middleman in between me and the job.” Is that helpful, and why?

Julie Forman

Well, so typically, a recruitment, let’s say we talk about search consultant.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.

Julie Forman

So search consultants — they work for the client, and that’s something that’s very important. So often, we get calls about candidates saying, “Well, I’m trying to work with a search consultant”, but actually, the model is where we’re hired by a client and we will find you in a sense.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.

Julie Forman

When you are more earlier in your career, more of a professional level, then it is worth it to think about who I want to work with, because at a contingency level, a lot of the value that these consultants bring is knowing the candidates and being able to present them quickly to the clients, because there is that element of speed.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, and so then I’m thinking if I am a professional and I am getting some inbound requests or information from a recruiter, how do I know how to sift through that a little bit and know, is this someone who has really cool opportunities or not as cool opportunities? Or you just have to kind of get deeper into the conversation to know.

Julie Forman

Well, the first mistake that I always see people make, or most people make, is that they are on a search mode only when they are actually looking for something, when there are not happy, when they want to move. When in reality, the conversation about your career should be ongoing. So when you get these calls, when you get these opportunities to have a conversation, you should take them. Have a conversation, learn what is out there, learn what these firms are working on, get a sense for what clients are looking for in candidates. And always make sure that you know the market in which you are, so knowing which firms are the ones that you definitely should strike up a conversation when they call, and that you should get to know.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, and so there is a nice listing in a Forbes article that I’ll put in the show notes. Any other kind of resources you might recommend to get oriented a little bit to, who are the names, who are the players? And you said, “They’ll find you”, but if we want to find them, what should we do?

Julie Forman

Well, you mentioned it. So there is a list there, and those lists, and I think on the website you’ll share, there is both the professional recruitment and also the executive recruitment. Most of these firms will have an area where you can upload your information so that you are on their radar. So that is something that’s very important. The other part is also looking around you. So when somebody has a new role, ask them was there any headhunter involved, any placement agency, and try to get their feedback for the level of service that you felt, the experience that you felt as a candidate. And that’s something that’s really important – using your network.
But most of all, I think it’s about being receptive. Sometimes people feel that, “If I dare to answer a recruiter, I am breaching this loyalty I should have to my employer, and I will be tempted to do something that I do not want to do.” Well, that’s kind of not true, right? This is just about talking about your career opportunities that may or may not appeal to you. And it’s important to have those conversations.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.  Well then, how would one make themselves more findable? I understand there is a LinkedIn feature that explicitly says, “I’m open to chatting with recruiters.” Or what do you recommend?

Julie Forman

Well, LinkedIn certainly is something that a lot of people use, so making sure that you have a very professional LinkedIn profile. And there are tons of resources out there that explain how to do it, but that’s certainly a number one. And not just listing the title; it’s really giving an idea of what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished – that’s really important. That’s certainly a first part. Making sure that your resume is up-to-date and ready, not just as though I’m going to write up my resume because you want to find a new job, but because you’re ready to, if you want to engage in something, that you have it ready and at hand.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, you said there’s a number of these LinkedIn resources. I’d love it if you could name one or two, and maybe just a couple of quick do’s and don’ts that you see all the time.

Julie Forman

Sure. So the first one is making sure that when you describe your position or the positions you’ve had in the past, you are not generic. A lot of people, they write their accomplishment or their responsibility in such a generic term that it could be anyone. And so it’s important that you think about, what is my value proposition, what have I done that is valuable to an employer, and how can I create, I’d say, the feeling that somebody wants to call you and learn more about you, because that’s what LinkedIn’s all about.
The other thing, make sure you have professional pictures. That’s always very important. Make sure that you have – if you’ve done any major transformation, any major initiatives you worked on, things that are very relevant in your industry, make sure you highlight it in your LinkedIn profiles because those are the things that are picked up. And never forget that LinkedIn is a keyword-based search engine, so make sure that whatever keyword you would see in a position spec that you would be interested in, that that is somewhere in your resume, so somebody can find it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, so then it sounds like – we talked about generic versus specific, and the initiatives and transformations – that there could be a fair bit of content, a pretty hefty word count then on your LinkedIn profile. Any thoughts on how much is too much?

Julie Forman

Well, I think you need to put enough to be able to create the curiosity. You have to bring enough to distinguish yourself from others. Obviously, you don’t want to have a five-page LinkedIn profile, but you want to put enough. Most people do not put enough. It’s not clear the scope of their responsibility, it’s not clear what they’ve done. And it’s just not, I’m going to say “salesy” enough, right? But I would certainly advocate to put more than less, especially if you’re looking for a role.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.  So maybe, I don’t know, just to frame it a little bit – two or three bullets or accomplishments per role, or is that about the right amount?

Julie Forman

About two or three where you… And it’s important as well to say if you are leading a team, how many people are you leading; if you have a sales responsibility, give me a scope of how much; if for example you’re working in a specific vertical or industry, what is that experience; if you’ve worked with major clients, what are the types of clients that you’ve worked with; if you’re working in sales and you’ve done through channels, which channels do you know, because those are the aspects that clients often will ask for.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. And I have advised many clients when it comes to, say, working on a resume, that numbers do really work wonders, in terms of if something is significant or large – what do you mean by significant or large? Can you put the millions of dollars or numbers of people?

Julie Forman

Yeah, exactly. Or somebody in finance that says on the resume, “I was responsible for closing the books every month.” Well, yeah. Whether they were closed properly or not, that tends to stay out.

Pete Mockaitis

Certainly. Well, and I think that specifically for a moment, folks in accounting roles, I think, sometimes those resumes are kind of tricky to showcase some real results in terms of like, “We kept things moving well, and appropriately, and sensibly, and according to GAAP, and nothing broke.” It kind of doesn’t have as much of a flash or an enticing element as, “Discovered acquisition opportunity that yielded $200 million of transaction”, or something. So I’d love to get your take there, if that is the nature of your role and responsibilities, like you’re responsible for keeping things moving and operating and humming, as opposed to generating new explosive initiatives that are game-changing – any pro tips on that?

Julie Forman

Well, you probably hurt the feelings of a lot of accounting people out there.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so sorry, accountants. I love my accountants, and you have skills that I often do not. And I value your contributions, all accountants out there. I want to make sure these accountants are getting their credit, their props in any way possible.

Julie Forman

Absolutely. I’m just kidding. But what may not sound exciting to somebody that is not in finance can be very exciting to somebody in finance. I think finance is one of those areas where nobody is looking for somebody who just stamps paper or closes the books. We’re always looking for people that add value, that are business partners. That’s what we’re looking for. Just calculating numbers and presenting them and making sure they add, it’s not value anymore.
So it really is about, when you think about your role, is how do I add value, how what I do every day distinguishes me from somebody else, and why would somebody want to hire me and not somebody else? And if you have no answer, I would say, change it. Do something. Think about how you can change it up. Challenge yourself to go above and beyond. And find those bullets that are going to go on LinkedIn and make a recruiter say, “Hey, I’d love to get to know this person because they’ve just done what my client is really looking for.”

Pete Mockaitis

I really like that turn of phrase there, “Find those bullets”, because that is powerful both in terms of representing yourself to the outside world, but also the internal representation for promotions and performance reviews and those kinds of things, is to proactively seek them out. And in college, I was a little bit of a… I was maybe a little bit of a prestige hound in the pejorative kind of interpretation of it, or a very shrewd strategic career planner in the kinder interpretation, because I was. I was thinking, “Okay, what is this bullet going to be that is going to sound awesome to impress McKinsey, or Bane, or BCG?”, because I was hungry and focused. That’s what I wanted post-college.

Julie Forman

No, managing your career is certainly about creating those experiences that are going to impress people. But more and more, managing a career isn’t something that’s linear. Before, it used to be you need to impress your boss, you need to impress your boss. But today, those people who are going to help you along and accelerate your career are all over. They’re everywhere. They’re your colleagues. They are your direct reports. They are everywhere. So it’s important that we stop seeing it as such a, “I need to impress my boss”, because that’s not what cuts it anymore.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, I’m with you there. So let’s say you’ve done some smart networking, you found some recruiters, or you’ve been found by recruiters by having an excellent LinkedIn profile that has the great keywords and great distinguishing accomplishments. What are some key things to think about, or goals to have in mind when you start having the conversations with these folks?

Julie Forman

So, it’s important to know what you’re all about, what you’re like, what you want to do, what you have been successful at, and what you want to develop. When you enter in a conversation, that’s the really important part. Too many people, they don’t think about it, and then they get pinged on an opportunity, and they’re just like, “Hey, it sounds fun. I’m just going to go there and explore it.” And they really don’t have the control of the conversation. So thinking about what you want to do is really important.
Another thing as well is what you want in your career, what you want in life. Every so often, you hear these conversations on, “You should not have your email during the weekend. At 6:00, close everything down.” But the reality is some jobs, you cannot do that. Whatever people say, I can guarantee you that does not exist. It doesn’t mean that you should do it. It means that if that’s a value, a preference that you have, then maybe those jobs aren’t for you and you should look elsewhere. And you could be successful doing something else. But understanding who you are and what you like is something that’s really, really important to find the career success that you want.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that’s a really good point there. It’s not just having a clear understanding of what you want, but also what you don’t want. And I have had some conversations with guests about establishing boundaries and that can take you so far. But as you said, in some roles that is just not going to fly, no matter how diplomatically brilliantly you engage in that discussion.

Julie Forman

Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. So then you’ve got some goals in mind, you’ve got some clear self-knowledge, and then you’re entering into the conversation. What are some maybe particular do’s and don’ts to think about as you are having conversations? You’ve got a relationship with a recruiter, and you are having some back-and-forth. Are there some things that people do that just are delightful to search consultants and just dreadful, like, “Oh my gosh, I hate it when people do this”?

Julie Forman

Well, so I’m going to talk from the perspective of a search consultant. It’s probably a little bit later in your career, although these apply to any level. The first part of it is really to engage in a conversation. You mentioned LinkedIn, and the reality is most of our sourcing, most of the way we find candidates isn’t LinkedIn. Most of it is our network, the network of consultants of the firm, and also, a lot of executives that we know and we ask them, “Hey, who do you know and how? I have this particular challenge. How would you tackle it? What kind of person do you think could tackle it? Do you know anybody?”
And so one of the things when you get into these conversations is to think about, first of all, “Is this something that I am qualified for, interested?” That obviously is the first question. And then if the answer is “No” to either of those questions, “How can I help the person? What do I know about the industry? How can I help, maybe with a contact, with an idea, with a place I would look?”, because that’s really important.
The other thing that’s really important is as a lot of management consulting happens, we’re not alone. So although I don’t do a lot of the work, the work is done by senior associates and research associates – all these awesome people who reach out to folks and who are often the first entry point.  And so make sure that you network with these people, that you are very kind and nice, and take their call and return their call. So that’s really important. Another point that is also something that we talk about and there’s a lot of different points of view, is salary. Do you answer when somebody asks you how much do you make?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, let’s hear that.

Julie Forman

That’s a big one. And there’s certainly a lot of different points. Salary, it has changed a lot. 30 years ago, 40 years ago, your salary – the salary you got from your job – often was your only source of revenue, and that kind of dictated where you were on the ladder of life. Today, you have people that have side jobs, and they create apps, and they have this, and they have that, so salary becomes one of the ways that you create wealth. And so I think that as a lot of things in these days, transparency becomes more and more, that you should find a way to figure out to test, how much do I make and how much does this job pay? And benchmark where you’re at, and think about it that way.
So, it really is a matter of personal preference and where you’re at, but obviously when you are in search and you call someone and you want to know, “Are we in the right ballpark? Does this make sense? Could we create an opportunity that would be compelling for this person?” So when people are super cagey, it’s not the best. And they don’t have to tell us, but they have to tell us what they want. And that’s the problem. The reason we ask for salary is people don’t know what they want. So it’s like going to a store and saying, “I want this. How much is this?” “Well, I’m not going to tell you how much.” It’s like, “Okay.” So it just doesn’t work. So either you say what you make, if it’s actually allowed, because a certain US state now prohibits it, or you say, “You know what? This is what I’m looking for. This is the range that I’m looking for.” And you have to have the confidence to say it.

Pete Mockaitis

Certainly. I’ve heard that tip shared and it resonated with me. When asked the question, “What are you currently being paid?” the appropriate answer is, “I am targeting a range between X and Y.” So it’s a little bit of a dodge, but I think it still accomplishes the goal you spoke of, is, “I need to know what works for you.”

Julie Forman

Absolutely. And you need to know how do you relate. And when you have these conversations, it’s a good time to ask, “Hey, I’m at this point. Does it make sense? What do you see?” Not obviously with everybody who calls, but when you’ve established that relationship, when you have this person you spoke to two or three times, and you’ve met them, you can ask. It doesn’t change anything. At the end of the day, whatever offer you get, you can say “No”. But the problem is people think that whatever is put in front of them, they just have to take it.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that’s very wise. And I want to dig a little bit more into – you said people don’t really know what they want. Could you be a little bit more specific, in terms of maybe precise questions within that realm of “What do you want?” that you often see people just don’t have answers to?

Julie Forman

Well, I think a lot of people, they start in a career, they get paid a certain amount, and they don’t talk about it at all. And so they have no idea whether or not they’re fairly paid for what they do. So, it’s about knowing, getting a little bit more information, educating yourself to know, “Okay, so what does an average role pay?” And sometimes getting a $5,000-$10,000 raise is not worth changing the job. But sometimes having that information helps you think about, or gives you the confidence the next time you’re in front of your boss and you need to negotiate that raise, knowing what is it that you’re worth out there, what are similar jobs paying. And it doesn’t mean you’re going to leave, but it means that you have at least that information.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s good. And I’d like for you to speak a little more to that. You say sometimes a 5 or 10K bump is not sufficient to exit. And I can think of many such reasons why that’s the case. Could you elaborate on some of the biggies?

Julie Forman

Well, so especially when you’re earlier in your career. This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. So you need to think about what is it that you want to develop, where do you want to go, and what is the best environment to develop that? And is it worth $10,000 if you just leave what you have and go? Sometimes you’re not in the right environment and you need to leave, and you’re not going to reach your goals where you are, but saying that just money is enough to motivate a move is rarely the right decision. It needs to be a package.
So, getting back to your question – you have a support environment in your role, where they are coaching you to get to the next level, you’re in an industry that you’re passionate about, and you’ve worked many years to develop, let’s say a clientele, and it’s just starting to work out for you. That would be too bad to let that aside to go to something else. So there’s a lot of reasons, but typically, people know. You get that good feeling on whether or not you’re doing it for, really, the holistic value of changing, or really if it’s just the appeal of a little extra cash.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, understood. And I’d also like to get your take when it comes to, you said we’re looking at keywords and does it seem to have a fit based upon distinctive experience. I also want to hear from you in terms of, are there some things associated with attitude or demeanor or some sort of other universal things like, regardless of I am trying to find someone in marketing or finance or if it’s in airlines or high-tech, everybody loves a candidate who, blank. Could you fill in some of those blanks?

Julie Forman

So the number one attribute, I would say, is somebody who’s agile. And agility is about the ability to take everything you’ve learned in the past and kind of rearrange it to deal with a new situation. The reality is the world is unpredictable. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. There are shocks every day, and so you can’t be prepared for everything that is going to come in front of you. But you can be prepared in developing a lot of different skills and having that ability to put them together to face whatever situation’s in front of you. So that’s definitely one.
The other one that’s very popular, and for good reason, is authenticity. So the ability to really embrace who you are and who people are, and find your real strength, and knowing what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. And that has a lot of different flavors, you can call it self-awareness, but that’s really important – knowing what it is that you can do and being upfront and honest about it.

Pete Mockaitis

And I can see how the authenticity piece, you can kind of get a quick gauge if you’re talking to someone, if they seem to say that they are great at everything, it’s like, “Maybe, maybe not.” But we’re not maybe getting the whole story or the full truth, in terms of seeing that self-awareness or that authenticity. I’m wondering from your vantage point, how do you get a read on if someone seems agile?

Julie Forman

Well, so that’s a good question. I think it’s when you speak to somebody and they talk about their background, there is a lot of creativity in how people approach problems and create solutions, and they’re always on the lookout for something new, something different. They’re not afraid of trying different things, and they’re not afraid of changing industries, or changing roles, or they see more of the positive than the potential challenge.
So that’s typically when somebody is very agile. Now, there is a scientific measure taken from it, and we could certainly measure it. Each time we do interviews and we meet with candidates, it’s really something that we measure. But on a high level, it really is that ability to be creative on how you tackle problems.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, you got me so intrigued now. Scientifically measuring this agility, I know Korn Ferry has some tools, instruments, assessments along those lines, but from a mere conversation you’re getting a gauge and taking that into a number. How does that work, to the extent that you’re not disclosing super proprietary things here?

Julie Forman

No, so to get into levels and numbers, those are very complex assessments that are done, and so we certainly don’t do it by just a conversation. But I mean you get a feeling. I think it’s the feeling of when you think about those contests around the world and you’re a team of two and you have these challenges that you’re not too sure about. I think it’s Amazing Race. Well, who would you like to be on with Amazing Race? Who would you feel that whatever’s thrown at you, you will kind of manage it through? And it’s that feeling that we tend to look into in candidates, somebody who you would feel very safe in whatever situation, you know they’ll figure it out. And so we don’t come out of an interview with a number, I’ll tell you that much. It’s more of an impression.

Pete Mockaitis

That is a nice image there with the Amazing Race piece. Well, I guess now I’m thinking about in the consulting case interviews, in terms of we say, “Okay, we’ve thrown several business scenarios at you, where you’re able to crack them again and again.” And so, I’d be curious to hear in terms of, not to go too deep into interviewing, but when it comes to questions posed, are you seeing any kind of mistakes happening again and again that candidates can just easily avoid?

Julie Forman

Yes, definitely. So the biggest mistake that people tend to do is, they are not prepared. And they haven’t really been thoughtful about, once again, what is their value proposition, what are those great examples in their career that really showcase who they are and what they can do. And so what that creates is that when you’re in an interview, somebody will often spend too much time explaining the context, and then they get in the weeds, and there’s too many details. And they forget that this isn’t about the price of oil in 2012; this is about, what did you do about it?
So if you think about a minute, let’s say, or two minutes to answer a question, you don’t want to spend a minute and a half talking about context. You want to give it quick, have that elevator speech of, “This is what happened, this is the gist of it, and now I’m going to tell you what I did about it and that why I was amazing in this situation, why you want to hire me.” But most people haven’t practiced it, and that really shows in an interview.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, I also want to get your take here – you’ve recruited at multiple different levels of seniority for clients. Can you share some perspective in terms of what do you see those who are rising, they’re flourishing and seeing a really cool career progression. What sorts of, I don’t know, knowledge, skills, abilities seem to come up again and again? We mentioned the authenticity and the agility. Is there anything else in terms of themes you’re spotting?

Julie Forman

Definitely the ability to learn, and also the confidence of knowing, of being able to come out and meet with us, and have the conversation, and take the information, and really have that level of gravitas that we look for. So, gravitas is something that’s really tough to define. It’s tough to define, yet it’s so easy when you see it. And I think that one of the ways that you develop that is often by being surrounded by people who have great executive presence. But executive presence really is when you meet someone, and they have a good background, and they know how to conduct a conversation, and you feel like this person can handle a lot of challenges. That’s certainly something that we look for.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, beautiful. Well, tell me, Julie – anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Julie Forman

Well, I think it’s really going back to trying to develop the best that you can be. Many years ago, developing your career was about being the best. So if there were five vice presidents or five directors or five managers, you wanted to be the best manager to get the promotion to director, and then the best director.
Now things have changed. People come and go, there are no long-term careers anymore. So you need to make sure that you work on yourself to be a director, whether or not it’s a director in your company, whether or not you get your boss’s job, all you need to do is make sure that you are director-level. And if that position is not there, then you’ll get another position. And I think that really is a shift in mindset, where you need to work collaboratively with your colleagues, you need to make sure that everybody gets to be the best they can be. And at the end of the day, everybody’s going to win by doing so.

Pete Mockaitis

That is a nice final note there. So now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Julie Forman

Well, one of my favorite quotes is actually by a great Montrealer who died last year, Leonard Cohen. And he sang in one of his songs a verse that says, “There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.” And I think that Leonard Cohen wasn’t somebody who spent a lot of time explaining how he came up or what anything meant, so it’s open to interpretation. But to me, it really means that there’s nothing you can’t crack, there is really an opportunity everywhere, and that once you find that little piece of light, that’s when everything gets better. So it’s the continuous pursuit through imperfection that you get perfection.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, excellent, thank you. And how about a favorite study or a bit of research?

Julie Forman

Well, study – I would say at Korn Ferry, as you mentioned, we have a ton of research. We have lots of information on executives that are successful and what makes them successful. So we’ve been looking at studies on what makes great Chief Marketing Officers and what distinguishes customer-centric leaders. And so we’re in a lot of that analysis right now, so certainly, if your listeners go on our website, shortly you’ll have all those findings.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, so it’s in process as we speak?

Julie Forman

It’s in process, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, cool, alright. And how about a favorite book?

Julie Forman

Well, I read so much for my job that I don’t think I have a favorite book recently, but what I’m going to suggest is a favorite podcast. I assume everybody listens to podcasts. It’s actually an HBR limited series called Women at Work. It is a six-episode that they ran about, I’d say, six months ago. And it’s a conversation between Amy Bernstein, who’s the editor, Sarah Green Carmichael, executive editor, and Nicole Torres, a younger associate editor. And it talks about issues that women face, but it is done in such a pragmatic way and away from the conciliation work and family that basically a lot of us are sick of hearing about. But it really goes into really more interesting and useful subjects, so I definitely recommend listening to those.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And how about a favorite tool?

Julie Forman

So a favorite tool, I would say… So I bought this nifty little whiteboard peel-off that I stuck on my desk, and tons of dry erase pens. And every morning I do my to-do list, and then I have the pleasure of just wiping it off as it goes through. And it’s great. At the end of the day, when you take that eraser and you just wipe it clean, you have a feeling of accomplishment. So hey, you take what you can, right? [laugh]

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I like that. I think that Caroline Webb of How to Have a Good Day, in a previous episode, really kind of emphasized that, in terms of when you are getting the pleasure of checking something off, maximize it. If it’s digital, it should have a big swoosh, or an “oink” noise, or a gray strikethrough, or a disappearing animation. And if it’s paper, it should be a big thick line through it. And you’ve taken it farther with the erasing – that’s cool. So you say a “peel-off.” What exactly does that mean?

Julie Forman

Well, so it’s a whiteboard material but it looks like a big sticker. So it’s the size of a sheet of paper, and you just stick it on your desk. So there is no way… I tried the notebooks, but then the notebooks, you forget. Papers, you have too many of it. This is just in your face, so if you decide not to strike something off your to-do list, then it’s on you.

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. And does it actually stick to the desk?

Julie Forman

It does, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Julie Forman

Well, it’s removable, so if there’s any furniture-lovers out there, it’s not going to damage it. But it’s like $10. It’s actually really cheap on any place where they sell stationery.

Pete Mockaitis

And it’s held up. One peel-off has stood the test of time.

Julie Forman

It does, definitely. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool, alright. And how about a favorite habit?

Julie Forman

A favorite habit, I’d say, is going paperless. So I have my iPad and Apple Pencil, which I absolutely adore, because I can’t get into the habit of typing everything, I still love to write. And going paperless is something that’s really great for me. It allows me to carry all my notes everywhere, it keeps them confidential. And I think that’s really something that takes a little bit of getting used to but now makes for a much cleaner desk.

Pete Mockaitis

And can you write with an Apple Pencil and iPad as fast as you can with a normal pencil and paper?

Julie Forman

Absolutely. It’s even better, though, because you can download some documents and then just mark on them. So it’s great when you have resumes and you want to keep that for posterity.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, yeah, that works. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Julie Forman

I would certainly point them to connect with me on LinkedIn. So I love building my LinkedIn profile with great people. Also Korn Ferry, our website. Korn Ferry’s coming out with great tools for even people at all career levels, so it’s certainly worth it to go and have a peek. It’s called Korn Ferry Advance, so that really is a great tool that’s coming out. And that’s it. And watch out for Korn Ferry Institute, where we have tons of great research paper that’s backed from our experience, both on the research side, but also the pragmatic part of being in search and seeing talent every day.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Julie Forman

Yes, make sure you’re visible. Be out there, network. Even if you’re super happy in your job and you think this is the best in the world and you couldn’t be better, you never know what changes and you never know what’s out there. So be confident, know what you’re worth and what you can do and where you can go, and make sure that you can test that regularly on the market.

Pete Mockaitis

Perfect. Well, Julie, thank you so much for sharing this. I think that many folks have finally had this question demystified. So, very much appreciated, and keep doing the great work you’re doing.

Julie Forman
Excellent, thank you so much.