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Career Management Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

698: How to Grow Your Career Faster through Reading with Jeff Brown (Host of the Read to Lead Podcast)

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Jeff Brown says: "If you want to achieve success in business and life, then intentional and consistent reading is a must."

Jeff Brown breaks down how to make the most of the one habit that puts you ahead in your career: reading.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to strategically pick out your next read 
  2. How to double (or triple) your reading speed in minutes
  3. Two simple tricks to maximize comprehension

About Jeff

Jeff is an award-winning radio producer and personality, and former nationally-syndicated morning show host. Following a 26-year career in radio, Jeff went boss-free in 2013 and soon after launched the Read to Lead Podcast. It has gone on to become a four-time Best Business Podcast nominee and has featured Jeff’s interviews with today’s best business and non-fiction authors, including actor and author Alan Alda, Stephen M. R. Covey, Seth Godin, John Maxwell, Liz Wiseman, Dr. Henry Cloud, Gary Vaynerchuk, Simon Sinek, Brian Tracy, Nancy Duarte, and over 300 more.

Jeff has personally coached hundreds of successful podcasters around the globe – many of them award nominees and winners themselves – and has consulted on podcasts for the US government, two of the largest churches in the US, and numerous multi-million dollar companies.

Jeff and his work have been featured in Inc., Entrepreneur, and Hubspot, the blogs of Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Jeff Goins, and Social Media Explorer, as well as publications like the Nashville Business Journal, the Tennessean, and hundreds of other blogs and podcasts.

 

Resources Mentioned

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Jeff Brown Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jeff, thanks for joining us here on How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Jeff Brown
I am so excited to be here. I have been listening to this podcast for quite some time. I’ve known of it for a while. I’ve even promoted it on my own show a time or two in the last year or two.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. We appreciate that and I’m a fan of you and what you put out there, and I’m excited to hear about how to Read to Lead in a big way. But first, I think, though, we have to hear a little bit about the tale behind you winning a Billy Joel singing sound alike contest.

Jeff Brown
Yeah, I was, as embarrassing as this is to admit, I was in car sales at the time. I spent about 18 months of my adult life selling new and used cars to people. And I remember on my way to work one day, I was listening to the radio station that I wanted to one day work for, I spent 26 years in radio, and they were doing a contest with Billy Joel and Elton John were coming to town. It was that tour of them together. And they were having this sing-alike contest, and I had been singing Billy Joel songs to the top of my lungs in my bedrooms for as long as I can remember, practicing for this very moment.

And so, I called the radio station, I happened to get through, thankfully, and I did “You May Be Right,” I did part of the first verse in the chorus, and they sang along and loved it. And, lo and behold, if I wasn’t chosen as the person who most sounded that day in particular, but just that one day, like Billy Joel. There was also Elton John sound-alike winner, and we got tickets to the show and even joined the radio station that next day and helped give away more tickets. And I dressed like Billy and she dressed like Elton, and we just had a lot of fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. Well, I have to ask, can we have a little demo?

Jeff Brown
Really? Oh, my gosh. I wasn’t ready for that. Let me see.

“Friday night I crashed your party,
Saturday, I said I’m sorry.”

Now, that’s not me really trying to sound like Billy Joel but that’s just Jeff singing, so there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it was a treat. Thank you.

Jeff Brown
I’m sure you loved it. You weren’t really expecting me to do or you just want to do it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I said I’m going to go for it, and if he declines, I’ll edit it out.

Jeff Brown
Oh, that’s the best I could do on such short notice.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it was a treat and we appreciate it. Well, now we’re going to talk about Read to Lead. So, you’ve got a podcast called Read to Lead, and now a book here. And it’s a catchy title and, more than that though, you say that we need to read as if our career depended on it. What do you mean by this?

Jeff Brown
Yeah. Well, I have found this to be the case in my own personal life and every successful person that I talk to, understands the value of practicing this habit. So, for me, up until 2003, I was in my early 30s at that time, and I had never made reading a practice. Reading wasn’t something that I did in my spare time, certainly, but I had a book and an author introduced to me. It was sort of like the stars and planets aligning, when the student is ready, the master appears kind of moment. And that author was Seth Godin, the book was Purple Cow.

And I did not, as embarrassing as this is for me to admit, I just did not know that these kinds of books existed, that if you’ve got a problem, somebody has already solved it, and they’ve probably written about it in a book. And so, that to me was eye-opening. I devoured that book. I went onto Good to Great by Jim Collins, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Pat Lencioni, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman, and on and on and on.

And when I started doing that, I was doing something that 95% of my colleagues were not doing. And so, just by doing that I was already ahead of the pack. But then, as I began to experiment and implement what I was learning, something happened, something interesting happened.

I tried some things that didn’t work, I tried some things that did. The things I tried that didn’t work were quickly forgotten. The things I tried that did work got me noticed, and I began being asked and being given opportunities to do things within the company I was working for at the time. That all came about as a result of reading and then putting into practice what I was learning. That’s the only explanation I can give for why I had opportunities come my way that no one else did.

I don’t attribute it to me being the smartest person in the room because I certainly was not, but I wanted to surround myself with people much smarter than me, and one of the best ways you can do that is with a book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. And that’s kind of my own journey is growing up I just went to the library a lot, and I realized, “Hey, books make you better. Read a book about photography, take better pictures. Read a book about chess, beat my dad at chess.” And it’s just really exciting to see that there’s a book on anything I want to get better at and it’s all right there, and maybe even free such as at a library.

Very cool. So, you and I have had that experience. I’m curious if there’s any studies or research or data that say, “Hey, it’s not just Pete and Jeff. This is a pretty reliable effect that we can bank on. When people do reading, it improves their professional results.”

Jeff Brown
Yeah, there’s probably more studies that I could possibly reference, and we talk about many of them in the book, for sure. But there are studies that show that reading certain kinds of books outweigh reading other kinds of books. For example, reading physical books have been shown to be easier to remember, easier to comprehend, easier to retain than, say, an e-book.

Pete Mockaitis
Really?

Jeff Brown
Yeah. In fact, and this was a study, I think in 2014, it says our brains were not designed for reading but have adapted and created new circuits to understand letters and texts. And they found that readers, and I’m going from memory here so some paraphrasing, but in this particular study, they found that readers of a short mystery on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback form.

And so, for that reason and many others, when people ask me, “Jeff, how do you look at reading? Do you prefer physical, e-books, audiobooks?” I think it depends on your situation in life. There may be a time, you may be at a place right now where all you can do is listen to audiobooks. I say all you can do, that’s not a bad thing.

When I was commuting to a job and I had a little free time, or so I thought, audiobooks were a great way to leverage that commute and those served a purpose for that period of time. Right now, when given a choice, I’d much rather have the physical book in my hand. I like the tactile nature of physical books. I like writing in the book, that sort of thing. So, I think it’s going to depend on your situation and also maybe the kind of book you’re reading.

I think if you’re looking to learn a new skill, a physical book is probably, more often than not, your best option for retaining and comprehension. If I’m going to tackle an autobiography, let’s say, that tends to be, for me, more for entertainment purposes, then I’m more likely to listen to that book being read. So, I think, depending on where you’re at in life, and the kind of book you’re reading, will help you determine which of those formats, I guess, work best for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is some interesting research right there in terms of format. And I guess I’m also curious if we got research associated with results. So, we hear that leaders are readers and that’s catchy. Is that, in fact, empirically validated from some numbers?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, it’s hard to say. I don’t have those numbers in front of me right now but I think it’s safe to say that leaders are definitely readers. But, at the same time, readers aren’t necessarily leaders. That’s a quote from one of our past presidents. I don’t recall at the moment which one. But I don’t think you can be a leader, I don’t think you can be a person that impacts, necessarily, unless you’re recognizing the fact that you always have room to improve, that you need to understand and comprehend the value of being a lifelong learner.

Can you read and not grow? Can you read and choose not to do anything with that information? Yes. I don’t believe that knowledge is power, as the saying goes. I think only knowledge put into action is power. So, there are a lot of people who just read and don’t do anything with the information. That’s not really helping you or anybody else. But if you’re one of those folks who understands the value of being a lifelong learner and actually executing and implementing on what you read, then you’re going to go much, much further.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you mentioned that 95% of folks are not doing the reading. What do you suppose that’s about in terms of are there some key stumbling blocks that show up frequently or folks are unaware that it’s transformational or they just think it’s lame? What’s the holdup?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, I was having a conversation, and I’m not namedropping here, I promise, but I was having a conversation with Seth Godin about the book. I’d reached out to him and asked if he would consider an endorsement for the book, and he gracefully agreed to do that, but not without giving some feedback because that’s what’s one thing that’s so great about Seth is he’s going to give you his opinions and feedback.

And a couple of things he said to me were, “People don’t want to learn.” These were a couple of things that Seth was noting that we hadn’t really addressed yet at this point in the book-writing process. Learning requires admitting that you don’t know something, which we’re taught to avoid. And it is so easier to not learn and simply get back to work. And the other thing he said to me was, “People don’t want to change their minds.” If a book is going to help you get somewhere you can’t get to on your own, that means you’re going to have to change your mind about something. And, again, that’s something that we resist, something that we’re taught to avoid either on purpose or not.

And so, I have learned, and the sort of the way we responded to that feedback, if you want to succeed in anything, you have to grow in your ability to identify excuses or limiting beliefs in your life, you have to own them, you have to take a step outside your comfort zone. You’re not very likely to experience success of any kind, I don’t believe, if you’re not willing to do this.

And so, people who are successful tend to not make excuses and tend to do whatever it takes to go through or over or around or under whatever obstacle they face. And so, here’s the funny thing about stepping outside your comfort zone. Maybe for you that’s reading a book, or reading about something you don’t know a lot about, or reading about something that challenges you. The more often you do it, the easier it gets.

I used to be terrified at public speaking but I recognized at some point that in order to accomplish the goals I’d set out for myself, that’s a skill I was going to need to cultivate. And so, I began reading books about it, and then putting myself in positions to do that more regularly, more often at small situations at first, and worked my way up naturally. The funny thing is the more I did that, the easier it became, through practice and repetition, and the more enjoyable it got. So, I went from dreading doing that to loving doing that.

John Maxwell, who I mentioned earlier, kind of puts it this way. When it comes to not liking to read, or not thinking there’s any value in reading, or deciding you don’t need to read, I think it’s kind of like saying, “I don’t need to think.” When it comes to doing anything we don’t want to do, and something that we understand could make us better, but we’re maybe lazy, for lack of a better word, you’ve got a choice to make.

And this is what Maxwell talks about, and that’s you can choose the pain of self-discipline which comes from doing the hard thing, sacrifice, growth, or you can choose the pain of regret, which comes from taking the easy road and missing opportunities. So, there’s pain either way. There’s pain in the sacrifice and growth now or not sacrificing and growing now, and suffering with the pain of regret later. Which pain do you want? So, I want the pain of growth and sacrifice because that one does not include the pain of regret at a later time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well said. And those resistance pieces associated with not wanting to admit ignorance or change of minds, I’m thinking now about a recent book, Adam Grant’s Think Again, and he shares a story in which he’s chatting with the famed researcher Daniel Kahneman, and he said, “Danny,” I believe Adam called him. Was that like Martin Scorsese, you call him Marty when you’re…? It’s like, “Okay, they’re buds. They’re chums. Danny.”

He said that he enjoyed being wrong because that’s the only way he really knew that he had learned something. He likened it more to a surprised feeling and a pleasant sensation as oppose to a, “Oh, I’m dumb” sensation. And I thought that was very enlightening.

Jeff Brown
That’s very interesting. It kind of reminds me of the first half of my radio career versus the second half of my radio career. And the second half of my radio career, by the way, was spent at the same company. The first half was all over the place. And I was in a lot of small markets and a lot of small radio stations because, at those small markets and small radio stations, I was the big Kahuna, I was the talented guy, I was the honored king, for lack of a better word. I knew my way around more than most and was naturally talented, and liked to stay in places like that because I liked how that felt. But what that meant was I was comfortable; I was in places where I was “the smartest guy in the room.”

Now, in the second half of my career, I lucked into a position where the tables were turned. Suddenly, I was challenged every day, suddenly I was put outside of comfort zone every day, suddenly I was surrounded by people much further down the path than I was, and people that I could learn from, and that stretched me and caused me to grow, and I learned the value of hanging around in rooms where you’re not necessarily the smartest person. That’s where you can do those things like grow and stretch and be all you could be, as they say.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, so I want to dig into the particulars associated with how to read more, better. But, first, I guess I want to hear what’s the process by which you discover and select your next book?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, I think you’ll never go wrong if you begin with topics with people, with subjects, with places, with things that personally interest you. This has been the case for me for the better part of two decades. When I was working a regular job, that was things about my industry and about my particular place in the industry, and skills I wanted to hone.

And when I focused on reading books about those things, I was never bored. More recently, that’s been books centered around mindset, and I continue to read books about public speaking because those are the things I want to get better at, being a better public speaker. More recently, that’s been getting booked and paid to speak because that’s something I want to do more regularly, more successfully.

I’ve read many books on mindset and really understanding the value as Carol Dweck has talked about in abundance mindset versus a scarcity mindset. And I used to be the kind of person that couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that I could someday earn a living on my own, even a better living than I could earn working for someone else. But I had to have that taken away from me enough times, and radios are notorious for that, for me to have a wakeup one day, and go, “Now, hold on a second. How secure is this really when it’s being taken away from me so regularly?”

And so, I read books that helped me come out of that mindset of “I will always do X when I could do Y only if I took the time to read about how to do that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really great. And I guess I’m also thinking sometimes my starting point is like, “Hmm, there’s something I need or want to know, to learn, to understand, to develop, to be better at.” And then I sort of go for it and say, “Well, what’s the book on that?” I search Amazon or whatever. I’m curious, if you’ve got a topic, like let’s just say public speaking, there is a boatload of great books, and I’m thinking Give Your Speech, Change the World which leaps to mind for me from Nick Morgan, a guest on the show. But how do I go about picking from the hundreds of books which one is really worth delving into? And maybe several, but not just one, but how do you make that call?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, I think the first thing you need to do is really narrow your focus. So, even something as specific and narrow-sounding as public speaking can be broken down into so many subtopics. So, I think the key is starting with, “Well, what are those subtopics?” and this can be as simple as going to Amazon and searching through their hierarchy of book categories. And they get really granular the more you dive into it.

But, early on for me, even though I don’t know I would start the process the same way now as far as this particular subtopic, but, for me, early on, I read books on presentation design. I lacked confidence standing in front of a room full of people, and I knew that if I had great-looking slides – again, I wouldn’t do this the same way now – that would take the focus off me and put it on the slides. Plus, knowing that I had great-looking slides gave me more confidence.

So, I started off reading Garr Reynolds’ PresentationZen and Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology so I started with that subtopic. And then later, that led to presentation delivery. I read a book on, later after that, the fear of public speaking and how to deal with the anxiety of it all. And after I read a few books on that, I looked at presentation structure. I’m currently reading a book on how to inject humor into your presentations, called Do You Talk Funny?

And so, that presentation reading journey for me has spanned 15-20 years, and I’ve got dozens of books over my shoulder that tackle all of those different subtopics. I just picked a subtopic that grabbed my curiosity and interest and started with books just on that subtopic. And when I felt like I had mastered that, or really gotten to grasp with that, then I went onto the next public speaking subtopic.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. And then how do you think about, broadly speaking, how one goes about developing the reading habit more? So, folks read not at all or very little, and they think, “Yeah, Jeff is right. I want to do more of that.” How do you recommend folks find that groove?

Jeff Brown
Well, one of the books I read in the last couple of years is Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. There’s also Atomic Habits by James Clear, a very popular book. And I found BJ’s book to be life-altering. And this applies to just about any habit you want to create, and certainly reading is among those.

And so, I would first encourage you to find an anchor habit. Like, what’s something that goes well with reading that you already do every day? And, for me, that might be something, and maybe for you, like drinking coffee. That’s something I do every day. I prepare a cup or two of coffee without having to give it any thought. It’s just ingrained. It’s a habit that I have. Reading and coffee go together quite well.

And so, the recipe, the habit recipe, as Fogg would call it, might be, “When I sit down with my morning cup of coffee, I will…” and this is where you can’t be embarrassed to make it super tiny. That might be, “Open the book and read the first page,” or it might be, “I will open the book and read the first paragraph or the first sentence,” or, “When I sit down with my morning cup of coffee, I will open the book, and that’s it. And then I will celebrate. I will do a Tiger Woods fist pump, or a victory sign, or look in the mirror and just go, ‘Yes.’”

And what I’m doing is I’m programming my brain to think, “Oh, this is something that is good for us so let’s repeat it.” And so, the next morning, you come back and you do that thing again, and it might just be opening the book. Now, over time, you’ll get to a point where you’re like, “Oh, I’m here anyway, so why don’t I just read a little bit.”

Fogg talks about this in the context of having a struggle with flossing. He brushed his teeth like clockwork every day but he couldn’t build that habit of flossing until he decided that, “When I brush my teeth, that’s the habit recipe, I will floss one tooth, and then I will celebrate that.” And over time, again, it became, “Well, I’m here anyway, why don’t I floss two teeth?” So, start there and then beyond that, in other words, break it down, make it as simple as you possibly can, and celebrate however simple that might be, even though it might feel silly, you’re reprogramming your brain.

From there, I would begin scheduling your time to read. One of the first things I say to people who tell me they struggle with finding time to read is I ask them, “Are they scheduling?” And when I say schedule it, I mean just like any other appointment or meeting you might have. Like, this interview we’re doing right now, we scheduled this. It’s protected. Barring some tragedy, we’re going to come together and we’re going to do this.

And I think if you want to read consistently and with intention, you have to give it that level of importance. You have to schedule it. And then when someone asks for time that conflicts with your reading, you have a choice. You can acquiesce and give in to that if that meeting is deemed important enough, or you can look at your schedule and you can tell that person, “You know what, I’ve got an appointment during that time. Can we do it some other time?” And appointment with yourself is no less an appointment in my books. So, protect it to that level.

And that might just be 30 minutes a day, maybe even just 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening, or all at one time if that’s better for you. You need, in that 15 minutes, if you just read five pages, we’re talking, what’s that, three minutes a page. Even I can do that math, so ten pages a day. That’s, over the course of a month of Monday through Fridays is a 200-page book.

Most business books are about 200-250 pages. So, suddenly, you’re scheduling that, you’re reading at that pace, at that relatively slow pace, there’s nothing to sneeze at because that’s a book a month. If you’re not reading much at all, now 12 books a year is a big deal. So, again, start tiny, start small, that might be opening the book, and that’s it, or that might be reading ten pages a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you mentioned speed so I wanted to hear that you’ve got an intriguing bit in your table of contents, and it says, “How I can double or triple my reading speed in minutes.” Jeff, how is it done?

Jeff Brown
Well, there are several techniques, and I’ll admit right out of the gate that my co-author Jesse Wisnewski is the true master when it comes to speedreading but I will say this connected to that since you asked the question. And that is a technique that we talk about called skimming which is directly sort of a cousin of speedreading. And this is something, as a person who reads for my podcast, I host a podcast called Read to Lead, so I’m reading a book a week and interviewing the author on that book.

I had somebody asked me earlier today, who’s like, “Surely, you’ve had times where you’ve read a book, you’ve scheduled an interview, you’ve read a book, and you realized, ‘This is not a book you think is all that great,’ but now you got to do the interview.” And I told them, “No, that doesn’t happen.” “Like, what do you mean that doesn’t happen?” “It’s because, before saying yes to someone and doing an interview, if I had any reservations or I just don’t know them, I don’t know their work, I want to be sure 100%, I will request the book and I will skim it.”

And here’s how that works. I’ll read the table of contents, I’ll think about, “What, in this table of contents, truly interests me?” because in nonfiction, oftentimes, we don’t have to start with chapter one. We might be able to start with chapter five. It’s about that thing we want to know more about or that really draws our interest.

Beyond that, I’ll go to that chapter or chapters and I’ll read just the headings and the subheadings from beginning of the chapter to the end of the chapter. And now I’m starting to get a real sense of, “Okay, what are we getting into here? What are the points they’re trying to make?” And then I’ll go back to the beginning of the chapter, and this might take about 15 minutes, back to the beginning of the chapter, and I read the first sentence and the last sentence of each paragraph, and that’s it.

And you can get about 80% of the meat, the main ideas and key insights from a nonfiction book when you do that. And, again, a single chapter could be done in as little as five minutes to as much as 10 or 15 minutes, and, boom, you’ve got the gist of it. And so, that often works great for me. When I’ve not said yes yet to an author but I want to, and I think I may want to, so I’ll just do that skimming in a few chapters. And if I like what I read, if I like what I’m consuming at that point, then I’ll go ahead and say, “Yes, I’d like to have you on.” Then I’ll go back to the book and actually read it more thoroughly, taking notes, etc., that sort of thing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And so then, 80% for just a few minutes. That’s a huge return. Think about the Pareto, 80/20 rule there. Very cool. And so, any other pro tips when it comes to boosting our comprehension? Because I guess that preview will be great just in terms of another rep for your memory. But any other pro tips in terms of getting more stuck into your brain so really you retain it?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, a couple. One, I’ve been experimenting with for now a couple of years, and it’s done wonders for my retention and my comprehension. And most times, when I talk about this, people are like, “I’ve never thought of that before.”

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing.

Jeff Brown
But once they wrap their head around it, they’re like, “That’s a really good idea.” Most people think it’s a good idea. But with Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Habits, a couple of years ago, this is the first book I tried this with, I had the audiobook but I ordered the physical book.

And I sat down with the physical book, opened the audiobook and put it on one and a half, or 1.75 speed. As Brendon read it, I followed along and it was almost like speedreading cheating because we can comprehend far faster than we can typically read aloud or read the subvocalization that we do in our mind, which is read every word aloud in our heads, which we’re kind of taught to do as kids and we carry into adulthood, which slows down our reading.

And so, speeding up Brendon forced me to follow along at that pace. And the combination of seeing it with my eyes and hearing it with my ears, being able to comprehend at that speed, I got through the book much faster. But that simultaneous audio and reading, or seeing in front of me, just did wonders for my comprehension and retention. So, I don’t do that with every book but I do that with a lot more books than I used to.

One other thing I’ll say, sort of connected to just the whole concept of retaining and increasing comprehension and that sort of thing, is teach the material. I think it works best with physical, e-books versus, say, an audiobook, but teach the material. Look for opportunities to take what you’ve learned, this forces you to synthesize it down into its simplest form, and put it in your own words. If you’re going to teach it to someone else, you need to do that.

And so, whether that’s one-on-one, whether that’s at a meeting at work, whether that’s at a lunch-and-learn, or maybe your local chamber of commerce, put yourself in positions to teach others what you’ve been learning about. Many of the books I was reading early in my career, just because I was doing that thing that most people weren’t doing, reading, got me invitations to teach what I was learning. And so, again, just the act of doing that helped my retention and my comprehension tenfold, I would say.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And so then, on the flipside, what are some things that we should not do? Are there any sort of bad reading habits that we should get rid of?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, I would think, or I would say rather, be very careful with your environment, be particular with your environment. When you read, you’re not going to want to have distractions, your phone. I prefer my phone either not in the room or at least turned over so that the screen is not facing up. I will, sometimes, utilize my phone by connecting it to my noise-cancelling headphones and playing an app like Focus@Will or Idagio, which is a classical music app that allows you to select classical music based upon mood, which is awesome.

But I think it’s important to be in a quiet place, have a reading chair, if at all possible. In other words, a place where you regularly read, and drown out those distractions. One of the worst things for comprehension and retention is distraction, whether that’s a mobile device, whether that’s the door of the room you’re in being opened, or what have you. So, try some of those things, whether that’s closing the door, whether that’s a regular spot, whether that’s noise-cancelling headphones and an app, to counter those things.

But distractions, whether it’s our mobile device, whether it’s an iPad, that’s why I don’t like to read on the Kindle app on a tablet because of the potential for notifications, and the same with my phone. You’re not going to have that with an e-book. But I’ve got other books on that device quietly whispering to me to come read them. And so, again, that’s why I prefer a physical book because it’s just that book. It’s the only thing in my hands right now. I’ve got that and I’ve got something to write with, and that’s all I need. And when I do that, retention and comprehension are easier to come by.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And so, I know that this is probably an impossible question, and one you’ve been asked many times but, nonetheless, I’m going to do it. Share with us, as you think about our audience and what they’re into, and how to be awesome at your job with some universal skills, what do you think are some of the top books that you think really nail it on these fronts?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, a couple that come to mind, and they’re inextricably linked, they’re connected for all time, and the first one is Multipliers, I mentioned this one I think earlier, How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman, actually, a book written with Greg McKeown who would go on to write Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. That book just turned my world upside down as to what I say yes to, what I say no to. And I think, in your job, if you’re anything like most people, you probably say yes to far more things than you wish you did.

And I think it’s important to understand, and I don’t know that Greg talks about this specifically, but what I’ve learned since then in applying what I’ve learned from Greg in Essentialism is that we tend to default to yes when people ask of our time. And if we say no, we feel like we have to defend that no to that other person when no is a complete sentence. And we should, instead, not default to yes but default to no. And if we’re going to say yes, we need to learn how to defend that yes to ourselves. And I think when we do that, we’ll have a much better handle on our time.

Now, as far as Liz’s book is concerned, Multipliers, that book, for me, epitomized what being a true leader is all about. Multiplier-type leaders are leaders who understand how to leverage the collective brain power in the room. I spent a lot of my years in early radio career in command-and-control type leaderships environments. And early on in my leadership career, that’s what I emulated because that’s what I knew.

And so, I was intimidated by a staff member who might know something, more about something than I did, or who might one day want my job. A multiplier-type leader relishes surrounding themselves with people smarter than they are, and they’re not intimidated by that. And I have found that when I’ve worked for multiplier-type leaders, that everybody wins.

When you can equip your team, to shine, and to flourish, and to grow, and to succeed, regardless whether or not you had anything directly to do with that, just creating that environment means you’re going to succeed as the leader. And, again, just leveraging the collective brain power of the room, equipping people to be the best that they can be, and just getting out of the way, just letting them do what they do, and trusting them by default.

One of my former leaders used to say, “You know, I trust you. I hired you to do the job. I’m going to trust you until you give me a reason not to.” And Stephen and Mark Covey talks about this in the Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. I think, as leaders, we need to trust our people. If they’ve given us a reason not to, that’s different. But until they do, trust them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, Jeff, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about your favorite things?

Jeff Brown
I would just say whether you’re someone who is already convinced that reading is a habit you need, and maybe you are already cultivating, or whether you’re someone who’s not yet convinced, if that’s the case, there is something in the book Read to Lead: The Simple Habit That Expands Your Influence and Boosts Your Career for you. And I encourage you to check it out. If you want to download the introduction, the first chapter for free, you can do that at ReadToLeadBook.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jeff Brown
Yes, and it would be “We don’t take action because we believe. We believe because we take action.” And then I would punctuate that with “Do first, believe second.” This is something that Seth Godin said to me the first time I had him on my podcast. By well-meaning coaches and parents and teachers, we’re often given the advice “If you just believe in yourself enough, you’ll be able to do anything.” Mind you, that’s not necessarily bad advice, but I think the better advice is don’t worry about that. Let the belief in confidence catch up later. Just do and eventually it will.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jeff Brown
I think my favorite study, and it lit a fire in me, honestly, and I don’t know if I can quote the actual name of the study. But my favorite study was when I read, not long before I started my podcast Read to Lead in 2013, it was a study about how few books people read. Most books read are one book a year, if that. I think the stat was 27% of people didn’t read at all. And I was just like, “I can’t believe that there are that many people in the US,” this was a US study, “that don’t see the value in this.” But then I had to admit, “Well, that used to be me. I used to hate reading. What can I do to change that?” And that was the impetus for starting the podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Jeff Brown
I love my new reMarkable paper tablet I got a couple of months ago. So, this does just one or two things very, very well. You can read PDFs on it, you can read epubBooks on it, but it’s mostly a writing tool. And I’ve taken all my notebooks and I’ve gotten rid of all the paper, and all my notes from reading and my daily planning, my planner, is all on my reMarkable 2 tablet, and I absolutely love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, that people quote it back to you often?

Jeff Brown
It’s just my mantra, my belief, and that is I believe that intentional and consistent reading is key to success in business and in life. Put more bluntly, if you want to achieve true success in business and in life, then intentional and consistent reading is a must in my book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jeff Brown
Primarily, LeadToReadBook.com. Secondarily, ReadToLeadPodcast.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jeff Brown
Yeah, and I hinted at this earlier. Just start. There’s something that you want to do that scares you. Do something, at least one thing, every day that scares you. I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt that first said that. Bronnie Ware in The Five Regrets of the Dying talks about the number one regret of people, being they lived a life that everybody else wanted them to live instead of living a life true to themselves.

And I think that’s the case for a lot of us. We get to the end of our lives with regret not for things we did we wished we hadn’t done, but for things we never tried that we wished we did attempt at. Don’t wait another day. It would’ve been better to start 10 years ago, sure, but you still have the second-best time available to you, and that’s right now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jeff, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of fun and enjoyment and enrichment in all your reading.

Jeff Brown
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it, being here. It was a lot of fun.

674: Nailing Your Interview, Resume, and Negotiation FAST with Steve Dalton

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Steve Dalton says: "The hard part of the job search isn't getting your resume right. It's getting your resume seen"

Steve Dalton breaks down the most efficient path to landing your dream career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to answer the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question 
  2. Just how much time and effort you should put into your resume
  3. The simple trick to negotiating a better job offer 

 

About Steve

Steve Dalton is a senior career consultant and program director for Duke University’s full-time MBA program. He holds his own MBA from the same institution and a chemical engineering degree from Case Western Reserve. 

Steve is also the founder of Contact2Colleague, a corporate training firm that helps organizations increase retention, drive sales, and develop internal expertise by teaching their employees to proactively and systematically build better professional relationships. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Steve Dalton Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Steve, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Steve Dalton
It is great to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so glad to have you. And I realized one thing that I neglected to mention last time and ask about was you have done, is this true, 87 Escape Rooms?

Steve Dalton
It is. It is true. Absolutely. I traveled around a bunch to talk about my books and it’s a great way to meet people in whatever city you’re going to, and to just have a really interesting time, find a good part of town.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. I’ve had some really fun adventures and memories there. And so, do you have a favorite room or company?

Steve Dalton
I really got my start with Escape Rooms in Nashville, and so my heart goes out to The Escape Game. I’ve done almost all of their games, and Gold Rush is my absolute favorite. So, all my friends out at The Escape Game, thank you so much for the wonderful times. You’re my favorite. All-time favorite out of all 87.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s where I went in Chicago again and again, and each time was a blast whether it’s with all people I know or a blend. I’ve had it fun both ways.

Steve Dalton
I think I’ve accidentally joined a team girls birthday party in the past, and it still was an excellent time. But it’s really random and incredibly fun.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, we’re not talking about Escape Games. We’re talking about your latest The Job Closer: Time-Saving Techniques for Acing Resumes, Interviews, Negotiations, and More. So, could you maybe distinguish between this book and your previous that we talked about last time for us?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. So, last time we talked about The 2-Hour Job Search which provided an extended recipe for the squishy middle of the job search. And by squishy middle, I mean that period after you figure out what you want to do, but before you get into that first interview because that’s where people seem to get stuck most frequently. With the The Job Closer, my follow-up book, it gives similar style recipes. It’s more in a cookbook style for all the steps that precede that and follow that. So, it skips over network and networking and focuses on choosing what you want to do, getting your resume together, getting a cover letter drafted on the frontend, and how to interview well, and negotiate, and get off to the best possible start on the backend of the process.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And recipe is the word. That interview, it’s really memorable for me. If you haven’t checked it out, and if you are seeking interviews to appear in your life, like I’ve never seen a more clear, prescriptive, detailed, like, “This is roughly the word count you’re shooting for. This is when you follow up.” It was excellent. So, no pressure, Steve, but I want more of that from you.

Steve Dalton
It only took me nine years to write a follow-up book so I’ve had plenty of time to think about it and I’m really excited to have these concepts out of my head and onto paper finally so other people can discuss them and give them a test themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I’m tempted to dig, to jump right into the particulars. But, maybe, if you can kick us off with an inspiring story who used some of these approaches and had some transformative results?

Steve Dalton
Honestly, I see this on a daily basis during my busy season and on a weekly basis, but it’s every time I see somebody embrace the FIT model for answering “Tell me about yourself.” I think, historically, we’ve all been bludgeoned with this concept of selling yourself. And what I’ll see is my job seekers will come in to do a mock interview, and you’ll ask them, “Tell me about yourself,” and you’ll have been talking, you’ll warm up any interview with a small talk, the, “How is your day going so far?” “How is your day going so far?” “Where are you from?” “Oh, I was up watching the basketball game. Did you catch it?”

And then they’ll say, “Tell me about yourself” signaling the interview is about to start, and people will go from that fun person who has hobbies directly into a robot who is like, “Okay, I’ve got the next two minutes memorized completely word for word,” and it’s very jarring when it goes from, “Here are the three reasons why you should hire me.” It’s all the goodwill and rapport that you’ve built during the first three minutes of small talk is suddenly wiped out. Like, “Now, I’m uncomfortable. You’re a completely different person.” And that’s how I see so many of my job seekers that I start to work with.

But when they embrace this FIT model, which is FIT. F is for your favorite part, I is for the insight that you gained, and T is for the transition you made. It’s just a pattern, a lather-rinse-repeat pattern that you take through each stage of your career. So, “My favorite part about being a chemical engineer was breaking difficult problems down in smaller pieces, but the insight that I had was that I wanted to apply that rigorous logic to a wider variety of challenges, so upon graduation, I made the transition to strategy consulting.”

So, the nice thing about that is it’s completely authentic. You’re just saying what your favorite part was. The funny thing about saying the word favorite though, it’s so powerful because I can give you three statements, only one is true. Can you guess which one? “I really enjoy cleaning the toilet.” “I’m passionate about cleaning the toilet.” “My favorite chore is cleaning the toilet.” Only one of those is true. Which one is it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it’s the favorite because among the less competitive arena of chores. And if you’ve got some of those tools, it’s actually quite satisfying. It’s called the pumice, I think. Boy, you really scrape that stuff off. I’m in an Escape Room game, we’re getting shoutouts already.

Steve Dalton
For me, it is absolutely my favorite chore because minimal time investment, maximum impact of cleanliness. But to say I enjoy cleaning the toilet, that’s a lie. To say I’m passionate about cleaning the toilet, that’s definitely a lie. So, I can say something is my favorite, have it be an absolutely true statement so it’s authentic, deliver a neutral energy which is accurate, and not lose the goodwill of my interviewer who thinks I’m lying to them.

But I see so many people, it’s actually a safer statement than saying that you’re passionate about something, to say that something is your favorite and you don’t laundry list that way so it focuses attention. But when I see people, like the light switch goes off and they actually try FIT, and for each promotion that they’ve had through their career, each stage of their life, they go from this memorized robot into a person who’s just helping you catch up on their life like you would help a long-lost uncle you never knew you had catch up on your life. Being authentic and real and meaningful, and seeing that light bulb go off never gets old for me.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that FIT model sounds perfect for “Tell me about yourself” because you’re telling them about yourself and in a professional context and “Why are we here?” which is kind of sometimes the subtext really of “Tell me about yourself.” So, is that FIT model primarily for that question or for a broader array of questions?

Steve Dalton
It’s to a job seeker’s advantage to treat “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume” in identical fashion. I consider those to be identical simply because the job seeker, you want to provide novel content. And where people go wrong with “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume” is they do what I call the transcript where they basically read their resume out loud to you.

Pete Mockaitis
“I know that. I read this.”

Steve Dalton
Yeah, it doesn’t add value. You’re just saying these words out loud that they’ve hopefully already glanced at, but probably haven’t. Either way, it’s not interesting. It doesn’t help me get to know you any better. The why, why you did what you did, why you made the career change when you made that. That’s not in your resume. That’s far more interesting. It makes you a stickier candidate in terms of memorability.

So, getting away from what you did and more into why you did what you did, that’s really helpful. The nice thing about favorite is it’s a great humble-brag. If you say something is your favorite, you’re going to get credit for being good at it. If you say you did it a bunch, you don’t get credit at it the same way from an interviewer.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And it really is true. As I think about my own transition from strategy consulting to, I guess, podcasting is that my favorite part of strategy consulting really was making a discovery in terms of it’s like my heart would start thumping. It’s like, “Okay, we finally got all the data. We got it all cleaned. I’m about to push the button that pastes it into the chart, which will reveal ‘What is the primary reason for customer loss?’ or whatever the question is.”

Like, I would get fired up, like an adrenaline rush in that moment before discovery. And then I could say, “Oh, it’s really fun to dig in.” And so, as a podcaster, it’s like I get to do that in rapid fire. It’s just like new guests, new questions, new discoveries. I didn’t have to spend three weeks cleaning the data before I got there.

Steve Dalton
Cleaning data. Your energy for it is palpable though. I absolutely 100% believe you. And that’s so critical, is maintaining that authenticity and trust with your interviewer because so much of interviewing is back-solving, “Do I like this person or not?” and then finding the data that justifies why I do or don’t like you. So, keeping their goodwill is huge. So, “Tell me about yourself” to me is like a spoon when every other interview question is like a fork. It serves to transition you away from small talk into the content of your interviewer. So, it’s a general transition question away from chitchat to sell yourself. It’s a nice easy introduction to you making an argument for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay. Well, we jumped right into the “Tell me about yourself” question. Maybe let’s rewind a bit to let’s hear resumes.

Steve Dalton
Oh, my gosh.

Pete Mockaitis
How do we think about them? How much time should we put into the resume, and the cover letter? And let’s just start from square one.

Steve Dalton
If you’ve read the book, you’re familiar with Ed’s 3-hour rule and I can’t stress this enough. It’s so neat and tidy. So, Ed’s 3-hour rule is this, and this is after my boss, Ed Bernier, he says that, “Assume your job search is going to take you a hundred hours of time. Don’t spend any more than three of them on your resume. Any more is too much. Any less is probably not enough,” but it signals how unimportant in the grand scheme your resume is. People so badly want to believe that if they put in enough work on their resume, they may not have to do this networking thing, which is really what I wrote The Job Closer to do, to help people get back to the more meaningful activity, which is networking as quickly as possible.

But Ed’s 3-hour rule, basically, in three hours, you can get to what I call good resume status, error-free and have some accomplishments. Basically, bullet points that serve as a cheat sheet for your interview. These are the stories you’re prepared to tell because they are your greatest hits. And if it’s intuitive to you, you can add results and quantify them. But if not, error-free is going to be okay.

The Ladders did a study where they found that, on average, hiring managers were spending six seconds per resume. They hook their eyes up to eye-tracking software, and the shocking thing was when they looked at what these hiring managers were looking at, they found what they were looking at were where you went to school, where you worked, what your job titles were, what your dates of employment were.

The unifying theme between all those items, they are things you can’t change but that’s not the stuff that people stress about when they do their resumes. They stress over the bullet points, they need a wordsmith, “Should it be managed or supervised?”, and that doesn’t really matter. They only spend 1.2 seconds, on average, reading all of your bullet points combined. So, really focusing on getting it error-free and objectively correct is going to be good enough for most job seekers most of the time and save you hours and hours of anguish, and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of hiring coaches to disagree on what a perfect resume looks like.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, let’s just say we’re spending three hours there, and so that’s enough to collect the facts and make it true and accurate and error-free. Anything else we should be doing with those three hours in particular for our focus?

Steve Dalton
I think the best way to look at it, again, is as these greatest hits or a cheat sheet for your interview. In your interview, you’ll be asked a lot of what I call behavioral interview questions, which tend to begin with “Tell me about a time when you did something, led a team, failed, collaborated with others.” And you’ll need to have a two-minute story, a CAR story, for challenge-action-results. There are a few different formulations of that. I like CAR, it’s the simplest one.

So, each of these bullet points should represent one of those CAR stories, those two-minutes stories you’re ready to tell that demonstrate why you were better at the job than the person who had that job before you were. It’s not about listing responsibilities. It’s about talking, it’s about highlighting what you did with those responsibilities, and why it was uniquely good. That’s really the bright way. You’re going to have to do that before an interview anyway, come up with those stories.

My recommendation for maximum efficiency is think of those stories while you’re writing your resume so it is a cheat sheet for you. You don’t have to do double work. If you make special bullet points just for your resume, usually people list out their responsibilities, “I’m responsible for…” is a giveaway sign that it’s a terrible bullet point that anyone else who had that job could list, so it’s not a differentiator.

But you’re going to have to go back and think of those two-minute stories later. If you just put responsibilities in your resume, might as well get that work done upfront. Think about those kernels of experience, that one week, or that one month, where you did something excellent, and that should be your bullet point, not your overall responsibilities.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s the resume. And cover letters, do they matter? And how should we do them?

Steve Dalton
Oh, cover letters sometimes matter a lot and they sometimes don’t matter at all, and you never know for whom they matter. So, my recommendation is acquire that skill, learn to write them well, that way you don’t have to worry about what a particular employer considers their importance. So, the technique that I recommend for this one is called RAC, for reason-anecdote-connection. It’s the same technique I actually recommend for answering the why questions that you’ll get in your interview, “Why do you want to work for our company? Why do you want this role? Why do you want to work in our sector?”

That same technique can be ported over to a cover letter because, ultimately, that why question is, “Why should we interview you?” So, the best way to treat that cover letter is to keep it short. So, I demonstrate that it can be done easily and under 300 words. What they’re looking for is a candidate that is authentic, specific, and informed. So, you can quickly convey that with this RAC model.

You have an introductory paragraph about the role you’re applying for, any referrals that you might have from current employees, and then you say, “I think I’d make a great candidate for the following three reasons.” Then you list reason number one. You cite a personal anecdote. It could be an experience you had, a conversation that you had with a current employee, an article that you read, something personal that can’t be used by any other person that’s applying. So, unique to you is always authentic and meaningful to you, that’s what counts.

But then, to finish that bullet point, connect it back to why the company should care. So, a lot of people will say, “I’m a great communicator. Here’s an example of when I communicated well,” as their reason. But then to connect it back to the employer, “This communication ability will help me quickly align my cross-functional teams towards a common goal to get my work done on time and effectively.” So, you’re demonstrating, “Okay, I understand this role. It involves managing cross-functional teams.” So, that’s where you get that informed piece.

A lot of people will forget that connection piece, connecting it back to why the employer should care. So, demonstrate an understanding. It’s a missed opportunity if you don’t do that, and you’ve done some networking and you actually understand what the role is. But the idea is we want to keep these minimalist, 300 words. So, know what each sentence is trying to accomplish. If you are repeating a sentence, or you don’t know where it’s headed, it can probably be cut. But I love cover letters. Personally, it gives me a preview of what this person will be, what getting an update email will be like if I hire this person. Are they going to tell me what I need to know or are they going to tell me all the work they took to get there? And I’d much rather the first option and not the second.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. Well, so then you mentioned that much of the heart of it is networking, and we talked a lot about that last time. Is there more that we should talk about here and now?

Steve Dalton
I think, in the book, one of the topics that I cover is the weekly manager meeting. So, this is after you get the job, you’re just starting out, or maybe you’ve gotten an internship because a lot of my students are looking for internships. I think people think that the networking stops. And, in reality, the networking is what gets you the full-time offer, or it’s what gets you promoted at the head of your class, so the networking shouldn’t stop. And the first person whose allegiance you need is your manager. You need to give them the tools required to advocate for you at promotion time. You need to let them know that you’ve taken their feedback, you’ve made progress this past week, and here’s what you’re going to be working on in the coming week so that you don’t make any mistakes or you don’t have misaligned priorities.

So, the networking never really stops. It’s just a matter of keeping people’s trust in you. So, the weekly manager meeting is just a simple format when you meet your manager. Walk them through the updates you have since your last meeting, so key accomplishments that you’ve hit, any progress that you’ve made, and then give them in order, your top priorities for the coming week, and list out any additional priorities that you have that you aren’t going to get to this week so they know they’re still captured.

And then, my assistant, Dave Soloway, he highlighted this wonderful piece, ask some questions that help you deepen your understanding of the role, or maybe the help of how to handle a tricky situation at work, or maybe just different approaches that you’ve identified for tackling a problem to get your manager’s feedback on which they think the best approach is.

Asking for mentorship is an incredibly likable behavior, when you want people to give you advice, it’s back to that Ben Franklin effect. You can build a relationship more quickly if you’ll allow people to help you multiple times instead of if you try to repay favors. And the weekly manager meeting is just a different spin on the networking that we focused on so deeply last time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I think part of it is then is making sure that you get that weekly manager meeting and that it appears that it’s on the calendar and it doesn’t get pushed, pushed, pushed. So, any pro tips there?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. And I’ll see this a lot with my interns because, often, it’ll be new managers that take them on for the summer, so they aren’t getting necessarily great managers and you still are responsible for making that relationship work. If they’re going to go on vacation, ask them to pair you with a peer manager to kind of help you in the ensuing week so you can at least broaden your network. My intern manager, when I was in business school, he actually left the company shortly after I finished my internship, so he’s kind of looking for his way out and I still had to find a way to get enough people to say my name in that room when they made decisions on who got offers at the end of the summer.

Thankfully it worked out, but it’s terrifying when you think that your manager knows what you’re working on and is engaged. And if they are canceling your weekly manager meetings, that’s a reason to sit them down, ask them, “Are these meetings too frequent? Would you like to meet less frequently? Is there another way I can keep in touch, keep you up to date on what I’m working on?” but, really, you want to start broadening your network outside of just your immediate manager so you’re not beholden to a single person to advocate for you when you can’t be ever be certain that anyone will.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes a lot of great sense. So, then any pro tips on how to have those conversations with other folks within the organization?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. That ties back to one of the topics we discussed last time called the tiara framework. So, setting up coffee chats and getting to know them. These are going to be a little bit more personal, whereas tiara framework informational meetings were a bit more rigorous and methodical. These will be a little bit more casual. But invite people who are peers to your manager. Let your manager knows you’re going to meet some other people in the organization, you’ll get their blessing. That way, they won’t think you’re doing anything weird. You’re just trying to learn more about your role in the group and the broader team.

And then extend that to any other people that you meet whose work impresses you or whose work you find interesting. Not everybody will take you up on your offer and that’s totally fine, but the people who do take you up on the offer will appreciate your proactivity. It’s just so hard to demonize someone that you’ve shared a meal with or you’ve shared a coffee with. It’s hard to kind of not look out for that person who humanize yourself in their eyes. You learn from them. You use that time not to sell yourself but to extract as much knowledge out of them as you can while also establishing that rapport.

But the only thing you need to do, really, is loop your manager in that you’re going to be setting up coffee chats for other people. Usually, they’ll be happy to hear that because it’ll only make you smarter at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. Well, let’s talk about interviews then. We’ve hit the first question nicely, “Tell me about yourself,” and we’ve got a bit of a framework with the CAR, the challenge, the action, and the results. So, can you share with us, are there some nuances, extra tips, or key questions that you could demonstrate this in action?

Steve Dalton
I mentioned that the same template that I use for cover letters is the one that I recommend for answering “Why this company?” So, let’s jump into that one because I call a subset of questions the big four. Those are “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume,” same question in my opinion. They’ll only ask you one or the other.

That usually comes first in most interviews. It’s usually followed immediately by, “Why do you want to work for us?” or, “Why do you want this particular role?” The other flavor of that that you might receive is “Why do you want to work in consulting?” or, “Why do you find the autonomous vehicle space interesting?” So, “Why this sector?” is the fourth question of the big four.

You can use the same RAC model for any of those three variances of the why question. And where I see it helps people is, typically when I am interviewing job seekers and I’ll ask them, “Why do you want to work for this company that you’re about to interview with?” one of the reasons they’ll invariably bring up will be, “You’re the market leader in blank, and everybody looks up to you. You’re the most well-regarded company,” and they’ll just kind of restate that point three or four different ways, and then move on to their next point without actually saying anything of value, and without actually helping me understand, like, “What do I get out of this?” I’m, as the company and the ultimate customer in the room, so is this a win-win? It sounds like it’s just really good for you, the job seeker.

So, the way that I would recommend attacking this would be have a reason, “You are market leadership position.” So, now we need an anecdote to substantiate why that’s a true statement or why it’s meaningful. So, for me, it might be, “I’ve worked at a variety of companies from tiny startups to larger Fortune 100 organizations. And I found, when I was working at larger Fortune 100 organizations, I loved taking advantage of their infrastructure for professional development, for mentorship, for programming to help me to get to know my start class so I could just deepen my bonds with the organization easily. I thrive when there’s infrastructure provided so I could bring this appreciation of all the great world-class infrastructure that you have for developing excellent people to your organization, meaning that I’ll grow faster and add value to your organization more quickly.”

So, taking that kind of clichéd point of, “You’re the market leader,” which tends not to lead anywhere, and if you’re going to use a point like that that could be perceived as cliché, add an anecdote to it, “My best work has come when I have the resources of a large company,” connect it back to why it’s a win-win, “This means I’ll get up to speed faster and grow more quickly.”

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe, as you’ve done your research, that you’ve got something even more compelling than, “You’re the market leader,” because being a market leader tends to correlate with a lot of other good things in terms of if you’re growing, then you’re exploring new cool opportunities, or you’re innovating, or just fill in the blank. There’s profit available to fund great things as opposed to we’re pinching every penny.

Steve Dalton
Exactly right. I think another kind of sibling answer I’ll hear a lot is, “It’s the people. Your people are amazing,” but then that never gets developed, “Who specifically did you talk to?” or that’s such a clichéd point. If you’re going to say a clichéd point like that, put it into the words of someone specific, “I was talking to Rachel Franklin, and she mentioned that she worked for a lot of companies who called themselves family but, at your company, she actually believed it. That was the first time she actually felt that family vibe. That really resonated with me because I’ve had the pleasure of working with an organization where we weren’t focused on our individual goals. We’re focused more on the company’s overall goals. We’re in it together. So, this will allow me to more quickly develop the trust with my cross-functional teammates or my immediate work team so that I can be integrated more quickly.”

As long as you make an attempt to frame it as a win-win instead of just why it’s good for you, and demonstrate that you’ve done a little research, you know who Rachel Franklin is, you’ve chatted with her, it differentiates the serious candidates from the ones who just prepped for this at 11:00 p.m. last night.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay. Well, any other thoughts then on the interview? It seems like we’ve kind of got that covered?

Steve Dalton
If I could add one more, the CAR matrix. A lot of people really like the CAR matrix. So, where the CAR matrix is on the Y-axis, on the vertical, you list all the stories that you’re prepared to tell in the interview, and on the X-axis, the horizontal, you list all of the questions that you expect to be asked or the genres of questions that you expect to be asked, and you match up which stories would apply to which questions. You’ll have some favorite stories that you want to tell, so just knowing what variance of popular interview questions you can use your favorite stories for, helps you deploy them in the most effective way because a lot of interviews aren’t longer than 30 or 45 minutes. It’s really important to get your best stories out there as quickly as you can, having a strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s wise because you want to share your greatest hits, and sometimes they ask questions that aren’t quite a bullseye. It’s like a politician in a debate. They’re not answering the question that’s posted. They’re answering what they want to. And as an interviewer, when I hear that, it’s off-putting. So, yeah, having that prep stage right there is useful in that you’re not making too much of a stretch at any point but you’re still getting to share your greatest hits.

Steve Dalton
Absolutely right. Just a little bit of planning because most often you’re going to tell the same three to five stories in every interview because they’re just your best stories, and that’s absolutely desirable. But you want to make sure that you have a story ready for, “What’s your biggest weakness?” or a story ready for, “Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma?” And sometimes those are stories you only use when you get that particular question. But having the matrix in front of you really helps you identify any blind spots you may have of questions that you don’t really have a story that you’re comfortable so that you can develop one.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, are there any particular variance you’d recommend for particular questions or is that challenge-action-results kind of the way to go for just about all of them?

Steve Dalton
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I actually recommend for different formulas of questions, you will sometimes add a component to the start of the CAR story, or sometimes at the end. Sometimes you’ll get the question of, “Tell me about a time where you failed.” So, this is weird because they’re asking you to talk negatively about yourself, at least that’s what the question states. What they really want to see is, “How did you become a better candidate as a result of a setback?”

So, a lot of novice job seekers will focus for two minutes on the failure and, in reality, we want to bury that failure at the beginning of your story so that we can talk about something that’s more flattering or appealing to you. So, I recommend converting your CAR story into a scar story or as a setback, “So, early in my career, I did not verify my data before I started working on a project, and I realized that the data was faulty, so I lost weeks of work and had to deliver my product late. Thankfully, I learned from this occasion on my next project.” And now you’ve transitioned to a positive CAR story about where you analyze data effectively or handle data effectively.

You’re not getting paid a premium or they’re not concerned whether or not to hire you based on how great your mistakes were but how you developed from them.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Wow, that was very impressive how much you blew it.”

Steve Dalton
Right, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“My hats off to you, sir.”

Steve Dalton
“You get the job, yes.” And, similarly, on the backend, sometimes you’ll be asked a superlative question you may not know how to answer, like, “What’s your best accomplishment? What’s your biggest weakness, especially?” So, you may want to add a T at the end, so a scar-t, or a cart story, where you end with a takeaway.

I like these for superlative questions, “What’s your proudest accomplishment?” because it allows you to put a bow on your story. Maybe you talk about the marathon that you ran, or the patented product that you invented, but at the end you can say, you include a takeaway which just finishes on a nice note, “The reason this is my favorite accomplishment is because…” and that revisits, as you said, the questions they asked in the first place.

So, even if you’re not sure if the story truly answered their question, you can find a nugget. You had a minute and 45 seconds to refresh your memory on that story. Find a little nugget in that story that applies directly to the question they stated, and you can add a takeaway at the end. Like, it rewords their question and states how your story is applicable, or it just highlights, “Here’s the reason why this is such a superlative experience for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now let’s talk about negotiation.

Steve Dalton
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, first of all, should we negotiate or is that rude?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. If I hire 10 people and only one of them tries to negotiate, that person is getting my most important project. If I can’t trust a new hire to advocate for themselves, I certainly can’t trust them to advocate on behalf of the company because it’s going to be awkward. Some people find that deeply awkward. I have to hope that the person who advocates for themselves is going to be best able to handle the negotiation on behalf of the company as well. So, absolutely, yes.

There’s a great research study I’ve just dug up that shows that when you accept the first offer you receive, you make the person who extended the offer doubt whether it was a decent offer so they feel like a sucker, “Maybe I overpaid you,” or, “Why did I do that?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Steve Dalton
So, negotiation actually helps reassure them that they’ve made an appropriate offer so it makes both parties happier. A lot of people don’t realize that by negotiating, you’re actually making yourself and your counterpart feel better about the decision to hire you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I guess that’s true. Like, if they say, “Hey, this job pays 120 grand.” You say, “Awesome!” They’d say, “Wait, maybe I should’ve…”

Steve Dalton
Yeah, “Oh, I feel dumb. Oh, gosh.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. Although, I will say that, I guess as the employer, I feel great that I’ve pleased people but I guess it’s something about my personality, in terms of, “Oh, cool. I’m so glad that you feel gratitude and appreciation.” But then, also, it makes me think, “Although I probably could’ve gotten away with paying you less.”

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. It’s terrifying. Nobody likes to think they’ve been taken. And, yeah, you think you’re trying to be, like, “I want to minimize conflict and minimize waves by accepting whatever they give me. I don’t want to take that 0.5% chance that they’ll rescind the offer.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, has that ever happened in the history of mankind? I don’t know. Maybe somewhere but I don’t know.

Steve Dalton
It is kind of an urban legend more than it is a reality. Typically, when I hear about it in reality, the very rare case where I hear about it in reality, there were extenuating circumstances. It was the negotiation was presented in a very unprofessional way. It’s typically the most common reason you would hear that. So, as long as you’re not…

Pete Mockaitis
“Steve, you’re going to have to pony up a heck of a lot more cash for me to even…”

Steve Dalton
“This offer is ridiculous.” Yeah, that’s where I hear that urban legend come to life. It’s something generally pretty deeply inappropriate. But if you’re just asking, and so I tee something called the pre-negotiation call in The Job Closer. I’m kind of amazed nobody else has kind of come up with the concept or named it, but it’s made life so much easier for my job seekers at Duke. Basically, don’t negotiate in your first call to talk about the offer. The pre-negotiation call is a non-negotiation call.

It’s a free information gathering call for you if you’ve just received an offer. And it consists solely of you going line by line through the offer asking this question over and over, “Do you have any flexibility around blank, salary?” “Do you have any flexibility around signing bonus?” “Do you have any flexibility around vacation time?” And if they say no, that means no. If they say, “Ah, we don’t have that much,” that means yes. So, make a note as you go through line by line on the offer where there’s apparent flexibility.

When they’re hiring a big star class, you often see a lot of reservation about negotiating starting salary but there won’t be that same reservation for vacation time or relocation bonuses, or those other non-salary-based assets. But the nice thing about this is when you actually, “Okay, thank you so much for this information. This is very helpful. I’m going to take the weekend to reflect and we can chat next week about the offer after I’ve had a chance to process everything.” And, now, you can negotiate on only the items that you know are in play so that you don’t run into that brick wall of trying to negotiate on salary when this company can’t negotiate on salary with you. That helps you kind of take the awkwardness of hitting a brick wall out of the equation and you can focus on a more productive conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And maybe in that same conversation, it could be interesting to ask about all the benefits not listed just to kind of make…because, I don’t know, if I’m in that position, they say, “Oh, do you do this, do you do this, do you do this,” and sometimes the answer is, “Oh, I actually didn’t quite think about that,” such that I kind of feel like I should have that in there. And the fact that I didn’t makes me think, well, maybe we can add that, like, “Okay, that’s not a big deal to have…” I don’t know, fill in the blank, a relocation stipend. But I hadn’t considered that and they brought it up.

But then if they say, “Oh, no, you’re bringing up lots of good things that maybe should have been in the offer that are not, and I’m saying probably no to all of them. I feel a little bit of a tug like I should probably make a concession elsewhere if I keep stiff-arming no, no, no, no on all these pretty reasonable requests that are found in many other offers.”

Steve Dalton
Yes. So, one of the books that I took great inspiration from was Getting to Yes for writing the negotiation piece. It was the first negotiation book I’d read and it’s considered a classic in the genre. It really focuses around principles-based negotiation or basically to share your motivation, don’t hide it. Have a because is how I refer to it in shorthand. So, don’t just ask for more money. Ask for more money because you’ve created a budget, you’re looking to path your educational debt with a certain number of years. This will really help you accomplish that with more certainty. Or ask for a larger signing bonus because you’re looking to really lay down roots to make this a long-term commitment so this would help you to put a down payment on a house.

But, as long as you bring them into that bigger factor, and then they may say, “We can’t give you a bigger signing bonus but what we can do is cover your closing costs or we can cost-share your first down payment or something like that. We can loan you money at zero interest.” Like, there are ways they can help you that you won’t know to ask for, but if you bring them into that deeper concern, they become your partner in solving this problem of, “How can I make buying a house when I first move there more attainable?”

That’s much more attackable than, “I want $25,000 more,” without backing it up with any sort of underlying desire or need or data. If you don’t have a comp to show, “Actually, it looks like people from top schools are making this range. It looks like people at top companies, your competitors, are making this range. Could you meet me at that range instead of the lower range that you offered?” So, it’s important to either have some data however applicable as long it’s favorable to your case but then have reasons why. Have a because for everything that you plan on asking for, how is this point going to unlock a win-win.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, any other choice tips or phrases that you love in negotiation?

Steve Dalton
“Can you help me? Can you help me do this?” I think that’s a very unthreatening way to ask for more. Like, “Can you help me close this gap on our salary difference?” Again, it constantly frames your negotiating partner as a partner, you’re on the same team so it engages them creatively instead of getting focused on position, positional bargaining, which is, “I want this number. You’re saying that number. How do we save face and not hate each other in the process?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I’m really thinking back to what you said with regard to if only one negotiates, that’s the one you’re going to entrust with a big project because I think that really reframes the whole thing. Like, negotiation is not rude or inappropriate or ungrateful, but rather it is a further demonstration of what you’re going to be bringing to the table. And not only might you be hurting yourself financially, because you don’t ask, you could be hurting yourself professionally because of the impressions that sends.

And I don’t think, yeah, I keep thinking about the urban legend, I just don’t think that the fear is real and it might just be like, “No, hey, seriously. Compensation is standardized across all of North America.” It’s like, “Okay. Well, I asked, and you answered, and I guess that’s it. And maybe there’s a couple little areas that we can go after, but I’m not going to ask about the sunny bonus, or the salary, or the 401(k) match, or the target year-end bonus, because I guess it’s standardized across North America. But here’s a couple exceptional situations, and we can go there instead.”

Steve Dalton
And you still won even if you asked and get shut down 100% across the board. You still tried. You still advocated for yourself so that makes me more confident that you’ll advocate for the company. So, it’s a brand preservation, it’s a brand protection measure, and that’s a certain loss if you don’t negotiate or at least even attempt. That’s a certain ding on your reputation that you didn’t even try to advocate for yourself. Whereas, this urban legend, “I’m afraid of the offer getting rescinded,” that is an uncertain very, very rare occasion that usually has extenuating circumstances around it. So, make the less common mistake is always my guidance.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Steve, any final things you want to share before we hear about a couple more of your favorite things?

Steve Dalton
No, what’s up next?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure. Can you give us favorite quote?

Steve Dalton
I am going to give a shoutout to my late mother, Dorothy Dalton. She has one of my all-time favorite quotes, and I found myself, while I was writing The Job Closer, saying it more and more. Her quote, and I don’t know where she got this, this is it, “The difference between a good meal and a bad meal is about an hour.”

I just love that quote because sometimes you have the right technique but you’re not in the right mental space for it. You just need to get a little bit hungrier. And so, I liken The Job Closer to a cookbook a lot, and so having that quote in mind, “The difference between a good meal and a bad meal is about an hour,” is just very top of mind right now. I will always treasure that bit of wisdom from her.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay, it took me a second. It’s an hour of extra hunger as opposed to an hour of cook prep time.

Steve Dalton
Yeah, that’s a thinker. It’s a thinker, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m with you now, Steve. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Steve Dalton
I talk about this one in the book too. There is a study by Frieder, Van Iddekinge, and Raymark about how quickly decisions are made in interviews that I’ve just been all about lately. So, they showed that 5% of decisions are made within the first minute which is crazy. That’s just small talk and first impressions. They showed that 30% of decisions have been made in the first five minutes. So, I talk about the importance of small talk and especially “Tell me about yourself,” 30% of decisions are made based on small talk and maybe “Tell me about yourself.”

They further say that 60% of interview decisions are made within the first 15 minutes, and what’s covered there, small talk, plus “Tell me about yourself,” plus the remaining questions of the big four, the why questions. So, I think so many people go into their resume or their interview worried about their CAR stories when they should really be worrying about getting those big four to be super compelling because over half of decisions are made then. Only 18% of decisions are made after the 15 minutes in the interview, and the balance, the remaining 22%, are made after the interview is over.

So, don’t stress about the CAR stories as much. I try to make it as easy as possible to kind of make them memorable for you but, really, if you’re going to worry about anything, worry about the big four. That study is amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Steve Dalton
I’m loving Unwinding Anxiety by Jud Brewer right now. It’s brand new. It just came out a couple months ago. He does a lot of research on habit formation, breaking bad habits, essentially, whether it’s substances or any other kind of detrimental behavior. But he really marries it with mindfulness and he does it in such a simple applied way.

I reduce anxiety for a living, that’s how I view my role. I take away people’s anxiety around this job search. Don’t take on yourself the stress of curating job search tips. Let me give you the first draft. Follow it, try it this way first, and don’t indulge the decision anxiety. But I still struggle with anxiety myself, so it’s really helped me kind of break those patterns, those habits of bringing irrational anxiety upon myself, and then blaming myself for indulging that feeling. So, can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone else out there who’s feeling anxiety about their job search or any other topic.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Steve Dalton
My favorite tool is, honestly, it’s the concept of the least bad option. So, in The Job Closer there are some controversial stuff, I mean, I disagree with the concept of selling yourself, which may be jarring to a lot of the listeners out there right now because, “How can something I’ve heard so many times possibly be false?” So, everything that I put forth in The Job Closer is about the least bad option. Maybe it’s not a great option but it is the least bad option available so it’s going to be better than the other ones that are out there even though nothing is great.

Really embracing the concept of the least bad option, trying the recipe, and then seeing if you can improve that recipe after you’ve tried it, the original way the first time, or seeking out a different approach that will be better than the one that you’re currently employing, that’s really just a mindset that helps guide people through a rather unpleasant activity.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Steve Dalton
Honestly, my favorite habit is asking for directions before you’re lost. I’ve done this all my life. I’ve seen so many people get into fights over not wanting to ask for directions, and I’ve always gone the other route. Whenever I sense I’m about to get lost, I don’t want to have any ego on this. Let me pull over and ask for directions, that way there’s no personal stress on the line there.

So, when you’re feeling like you’re spinning your wheels, you’re not getting a great return on effort, don’t allow yourself to get too dug in. Instead, just seek out an expert, seek out a recipe that you trust. Ask for directions before you get lost because it’s so much harder to do after.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget – that kind of sounds like it right there, I mean – that you share that is frequently quoted back to you?

Steve Dalton
One that I’ve gotten a lot of traction with lately, “The hard part isn’t getting your resume right. The hard part of the job search isn’t getting your resume right. It’s getting your resume seen.” And that takes networking effort, and networking effort is scary, but don’t be scared of it. It’s like being scared of playing the violin. If you’ve never played the violin before, it’s not scary. You just haven’t been trained. You haven’t practiced. It’s going to sound terrible the first time you try it, but you can get better at it quickly. So, don’t worry about hyper-engineering your resume because it’s not how you get interviews.

For every one person who’s hired through an online job posting application, we talked about the New York Fed study the last time, the Brown, Setren, and Topa one, 12 people are hired through internal referrals. So, get internal referrals, that’s the modern challenge of the job search. And everybody’s on equal playing field. We’re all terrible at asking strangers for help, for their advocacy. So, the quicker you learn this brand-new skill, the better off you’ll be.

Even those people who come in and you think they have perfect networks for this, very rarely are they exactly relevant. And if they are relevant, great, they have an advantage, but that’s a small minority of people. Most people don’t. Embrace networking earlier because the hard part isn’t getting your resume right, it’s getting it seen.

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

Steve Dalton
The fastest way on Twitter @Dalton_Steve. You can also find me at TheJobCloser.com for the new book. And the place that I’m most active is “The 2-Hour Job Search – Q&A Forum” LinkedIn group. So, if you’re active on LinkedIn, look up the LinkedIn group “The 2-Hour Job Search – Q&A Forum” and you’ll find me there. There’s about 7,000 of us currently. I’m on there several times a week answering questions, trading ideas. It’s a good time so please join me.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Steve, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck, and your students as well, as they’re closing bunches of jobs.

Steve Dalton
Thank you so much for having me back. It’s a pleasure as always.

644: How to Sharpen Your Skills for Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet with Michelle Weise

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Michelle Weise sheds light on the learning challenges professionals will face in the near future—and how we can prepare for them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to surface your hidden skills
  2. How to keep AI from making you irrelevant
  3. Nifty tools for upskilling quickly

About Michelle

Michelle Weise was just named to the Thinkers50 thinkers to watch in 2021. She is senior advisor to Imaginable Futures, a venture of The Omidyar Group, and BrightHive, a data collaboration platform. 

She is former chief innovation officer of Strada Education Network and Southern New Hampshire University. She led the higher education practice at Clay Christensen’s Institute for Disruptive Innovation. Her most recent book is LONG LIFE LEARNING: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Even Exist Yet (Wiley, 2020). Her first book, with Clay Christensen (2014) is Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

  • MunkPack. Save 20% on delicious, keto-friendly snacks at Munkpack.com with the promo code AWESOME.

Michelle Weise Interview Transcript

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

Michelle Weise
Great to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, as I was reading all about you, one thing that I found, I guess, touching or moving or wanting to touch up on for a moment was we’ve spoken with some people who have worked and written books with Stephen R. Covey, and it was just sort of beautiful to hear some memories of that great man and teacher who’ve lived on, and, likewise, I wanted to hear a bit from you, to start us off, about working with Clayton Christensen. What’s something folks should know about him and who he was when you were collaborating with him?

Michelle Weise
He was one of the most generous people. He would always kind of make you feel like you were the most important person talking to him at that moment. And, it’s funny, I had a lot of folks who would see him speak at large events and they could sense his sort of folksy tone from him and his kindness, and he would say these beautiful things, and people would turn to me and say, “Is he really that nice? Is this for show?” and it really wasn’t.

He was sort of rooted in that way. He was driven by a really intense faith. He was a Mormon. At his funeral, it was kind of amazing to hear the incredible amount of service he did on the sidelines. And that just sort of…that feeling of just kindness and generosity that was emanating from him, I think it just showed through every action.

And, for me, it was life-changing to work with him directly and to write with him and to learn from him, and to go very deep into the theories of disruptive innovation and sort of see where he would get frustrated with kind of the misuse of his theories. And everything I learned about storytelling, I learned from him.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing. And so, oh, yeah, we’re going to be doing a little bit of storytelling, I suppose, here about your insights associated with long life learning. I keep almost saying life-long learning every time, it probably happens to you a lot with your collaborators here. So, well, hey, let’s go meta for a second. Michelle, tell me, how can we tell this story most effectively?

Michelle Weise
Yes, so the reason why we’re getting tripped up on long life learning is we’re so much more familiar with this concept of life-long learning that we should be constantly learning how to learn throughout our lives. What I tried to do in this book was to move us into action. I was just noticing a lot of inertia around this concept because we know we need to reskill throughout our longer more turbulent work lives. But where is the actual infrastructure to sort of take these on and off ramps, in and out of learning and work, or do both at the same time and not have it feel so painful?

And so, for me, this mental shift comes through this concept of a longer life. If we extend our life spans, which we know since 1840, we’ve tacking on three months of life to every single year since 1840, so our life spans are just definitely extending but so are our work lives. When you look at early Baby Boomers and how long they’re staying in the workforce and how many job changes they go through by the time they retire, it just helps us kind of snap us into attention, and to say, “We have to start building a better functioning ecosystem in which we can access the education and training we need in order to thrive in the labor market.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that thesis seems to just make sense as a natural implication of living longer and such. So, could you maybe share with us something that’s surprising or counterintuitive as a discovery that you’ve made along the way as you’re putting this together?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, I have been doing a lot of research on the future or work, and what I noticed in a lot of the literature and the analyses out there by chief economists as they’re trying to sort of forecast all the different kinds of ways in which jobs are going to become obsolete or this industry will become decimated by these technologies, what I realized was this kind of intense focus on the “it”, or the things or the jobs, or the tasks and numbers.

And so, what I realized is if we actually kind of move away from thinking about the future of work to the future of workers, and all of us having to somehow kind of move through this learn-earn, learn-earn cycle, to me it kind of helped surface some of the most intractable issues and barriers that we need to solve for today.

So, what my book does is it really actually elevates the voices of people who only have a high school degree, who are constantly being overlooked for work they could actually perform, and noticing where the barriers kind of coalesce. So, these concepts that I come up with around better career navigation, or better wrap-around support services, or more targeted educational pathways, or more integrated learning and earning, and more fair and transparent skills-based hiring practices, those aren’t just coming from me thinking what we need to do. It’s really kind of trying to gather all this qualitative data.

We did over a hundred hour-long in-depth interviews with folks to sort of sass out, “Where do people keep kind of bumping up against pain points?” And if we designed this future system better, then all of us are going to actually end up benefiting. It’s the same idea of the curve cuts that we did when we kind of created the Americans With Disabilities Act.

When you’re cutting into the curve and you’re making a sloping curve, you’re not only helping folks who are disabled who need to use a wheelchair, but you’re helping mothers pushing strollers, or FedEx delivery folks with their dolleys, you’re helping runners, cyclists, skateboarders. It’s this idea of universal design. But when we want to target our focus, because it just seems like this huge, expansive challenge, we focus on the people, the future of workers.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. Well, so then, as we got a lot of workers listening right now, can you sort of frame things up for us a little bit in terms of…? So, you make a point that the old model of, hey, there’s education, then there’s work, then there’s retirement isn’t what we should be relying upon going forward. Can you expand upon that?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, just the notion that we could have one or a handful of jobs and retire in comfort, that’s already become sort of a quaint notion. And when you look at the amount of job changes that people are experiencing by the time they retire, folks are already going through, on average, 12 job changes by the time they retire.

And so, as we think about that longer more turbulent work life that is shaped by rapid advancements in technology, we can only extrapolate from there, “Wow, we may have to somehow entertain 20 or 30 job changes by the time we retire. And so, how in the world are we going to navigate that when one is just so difficult to navigate?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, lay it on us, how should we navigate these optimally?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, I think the perfect illustration of what’s not working today is when we look at what the pandemic has shown us, which is when retail and hospitality were just completely decimated as industries, we had no way for people who were in those customer service roles or those frontline worker roles to actually transfer their skills from retail or from hospitality into something totally different but to identify their kind of transferable skills.

And I think, all of us, we believe that we have really important kinds of skills. Those transferable skills that can help us port our assets from one specific area to another. But, in general, when you think about the job market, we think about it in such a linear format. We kind of, if we start off in retail, or if we start off in office admin, when we think about advancement, we think within that line of work. It’s harder for us to sort of think about moving beyond that industry that we started in.

And the reason why we feel that way is because that’s what employers tell us, right? The employers want to see exact work experience in hospitality to move you up to a manager role. We don’t have ways of validating other kinds of experiences. So, one of the key solutions for us that are exciting for us to anticipate, and we already see these different kinds of AI-powered platforms.

What they’re doing is they’re helping us surface maybe some of our hidden skills. The skills that aren’t necessarily recognized by a formal credential, like a degree or a certificate or a certification. And what they’re doing is, as we’re typing in, I used to be a barista, that signal of the barista helps the platform actually surface, “Oh, did you know that folks who were baristas they have these specific competencies and skills.”

So, there are ways in which these platforms can not only help us surface our own skills but then help us envision pathways where we might actually be 75% of the way there towards something in human resources, or 85% of the way there towards something in advertising and marketing. We just didn’t know it; we couldn’t envision it for ourselves.

So, these kinds of tech-enabled platforms are interesting kinds of seeds of innovation to look at that might help us not only kind of validate our own skills whether we’ve acquired them through taking care of our own families or through work experience, and also understand the kinds of gaps we might have to fill in order to move into these other opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really interesting when you mentioned that if you’re a barista, you can very well have under the surface like all of these skills that you’re applying there. And that reminds me of a previous guest we had, Todd Rose, talking about dark horses and how what might seem like completely different skills are actually, if you zoom way in, super similar in terms of, “Oh, actually, well, you’re using your hands to shape these things into other things so that they fit. Those are similar.” Much like, “Oh, you are optimizing a manufacturing production schedule is sort of like solving a puzzle over in the realm of math or physics or something that, who would’ve known, those are quite common or quite complementary.”

Michelle Weise
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, these platforms you speak of, how do we get our hands on one? So, can I go to some website right now and it’s going to tell me all my hidden skills?

Michelle Weise
So, that’s one of the challenges. There is like a free one off of Emsi called Skills Match where you can start to surface and kind of build a resume using these technologies. But this is one of the challenges and this is what I’m trying to point out in my book is that there are hundreds of thousands of innovations and solutions out there. The problem is for any normal person to understand where to go, like if we’re suddenly laid off, we don’t know who to call, where to go, who to talk to.

There are so many of these solutions out there but they’re not knit together in a way that’s easily understandable and navigable for any person. It’s not that we need a whole slew of new innovations. We need these things to become just more accessible so we can understand and comprehend how to navigate this who to go to for, “How do I know that when I pick this learning experience, a future employer is going to validate it and understand what it means? And how do I know precisely which skills I need to acquire? And which school actually offers those three competencies? I don’t need a degree, maybe. Maybe I already have a degree. I don’t want to go back to school full time. How do I get just what I need in order to move on?” And that’s one of the challenges.

But there’s a bunch of these groups, like Skyhigh, FutureFit. And what they’re doing right now is they’re more B2B, they’re more working with enterprises and trying to help them get a better understanding of who’s in their workforce. Because a lot of companies, and it’s very odd to think about it this way, but most companies don’t actually know what their people can do.

They know job titles, they know names. They don’t have a real granular sense of the skillsets, the competencies, all those hidden talents that folks have. So, that’s where these innovations are starting is trying to help employers be less wasteful, not always recruit externally, but look at the talent that they have right in front of them, and think, “Maybe I could actually take 30% of these folks and build their skills in X, Y, or Z technique or strategic goals for the future.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s exciting, and, indeed, it just seems like a huge opportunity that’s just waiting to be plucked. A great manager would know a lot of what their team is capable of. Yet, how is that information captured, collected, and transmitted elsewhere? And one of the incentives for doing so, you’re like, “No, Michelle is a rock star. She’s working for me. Get your hands off. I don’t want you to snag and do a completely different function.”

Michelle Weise
That is a real challenge within the companies. Yeah, this kind of like zero-sum game of, “Oh, if you take my person, you’re hurting me versus helping the company.” It’s hard to get out of that mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally, unless you have sort of a widespread culture and reciprocity and such so that you say, “Hey, you know what, there’s give and take, I might lose Michelle for a couple months, but I’m going to get Phil who’s amazing and fills another role that we really need,” so there’s that trust there that can be handy.

Well, now, you just got me dreaming big, Michelle. I remember I once, I don’t know if I’m going to do this or not, but I hope someone is doing this. But when you talked about the high school folks who did not have diplomas and yet are capable of doing so much but it’s hard for them to sort of prove that. I kind of imagine just like forming this whole business where we just sort of like assess the crap out of people in terms of like all of these batteries of things because I come from strategy consulting and we did case interviews, and I found that that was a pretty excellent means of identifying if some folks have a particular set of skills. And so, that’s one kind of a test for one set of skills.

Likewise, there’s many tests for many other skills. Wouldn’t it be cool if folks could go to some sort of facility for a week or something and get a rundown on all their skills in a language that firms could read and understand, and then open up opportunity for people as well as savings for the companies? It seems like someone should have invented that. Maybe it needs to be me or maybe that’s in the works. But, Michelle, give us your take on to what extent does that exists, a means of identifying and appreciating hidden skills so that companies can save money and not have to hire the Harvard grad, and professionals who don’t have the degree can see some cool opportunities?

Michelle Weise
Yeah. So, what you’re identifying when you’re talking about seeing how someone responds to a case study is you’re testing their problem-solving capabilities, you’re trying to see, “What kind of systems-thinking, critical-thinking capabilities do they have?” I was just talking to a colleague who used to work at Arthur Andersen and they had this very open-question format where they would do the same things where they’d be trying to assess out someone’s sense of initiative and collaboration and these more fuzzy things, but trying to see how they talk about this in the context of solving a problem.

The good news is that there are these innovators who are working on new kinds of ways of assessing curiosity, problem-solving, all these really important kinds of skills that we know are going to be deeply valuable in the future of work. Because as we think about the rapid advancements of AI and how intelligent these AI are, where it’s not only able to read, drive, see, but it’s also able to write poetry, it can paint Picassos. It’s getting scary how far these technologies are sort of infiltrating our lives. What is our human advantage? What is our competitive advantage when we compare ourselves to these machines who can usually do some of this work far more flawlessly than we can? And it comes in these human skills.

So, places Imbellis and Mursion and all these different groups are trying to figure out ways to test out someone’s problem-solving capabilities where you’re on a computer and you’re thrust into this setting where you’re in this natural environment in the mountains and something is dead in front of you, and you need to kind of poke it and look at it, sort of see what is going on, and you’re trying to figure out what happened.

And so, on the backend you have psychometricians kind of figuring out what all those clicks mean, what are you doing when you’re putting these two datasets together. So, there’s really interesting ways in which groups are trying to democratize the process, and say, “We’re looking for the best problem-solvers in the world. If you can kind of solve this problem, this is really exciting.” And it makes me think of what you’re talking about with Todd Rose’s concept of the dark horse.

One of the most valuable assets that we will bring to the table is our ability to take concepts from seemingly unrelated domains and make them make sense in the context of the problem we’re trying to solve. So, InnoCentive, as an example, this was a platform that was created partly because at Eli Lilly, these chemists and scientists couldn’t figure out a problem so they posted it online and they found out that a lawyer could actually solve the problem using his sort of different kinds of contextualized expertise to help them figure out a way forward. Or, when they tried to figure out how to create more efficient ways of solving for oil spills in oceans, it was actually a pastry chef who talked about the process of making chocolate mousse and how that might actually help us think through how you remove oil from water.

And this is all, I’m totally stealing this from David Epstein’s book Range, but it’s this idea of, “How are we going to cultivate not only problem-solvers but people who can display that sense of range?” And it doesn’t always come from a four-year college degree. We don’t always get that real intensive interdisciplinary learning that we probably should. And, for me, for the next steps for higher education, that is a real opportunity for them to kind of break down silos across disciplines and departments. But, as we think about those skills that are going to make us most valuable, it’s going to be those kinds of hidden ways of thinking about problems.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s hit that for a minute there. So, AI can do a lot, and right now we’re very much evaluating humans being able to draw from different disciplines and putting them together. So, What are the fundamental kinds of principles or distinctions that…? Like, we think human brains are going to be able to do this better than machines even 20 years from now. What are those things? It’s not playing chess or Jeopardy, but what is it?

Michelle Weise
I think probably the most helpful way of thinking about it is when I talked to an executive from Apple who, he actually went to Stanford for a mechanical engineering degree, but as part of his general curriculum he took a class on ethics. And he mentioned that that class is probably one of the most valuable classes he had while he was an undergraduate, because when they’re producing technology, new technologies, new products, the thing they have to think about is, he called it sort of volume impact repercussions, where they have to think of second-, third-order effects of what they’re building, because, in an instant, millions of people are going to be leveraging whatever it is they are producing. And so, they really have to kind of anticipate forward and think, “What are all the ways in which this can go wrong?”

And if we think about where we are today with social media, we didn’t do enough of that. We didn’t extrapolate enough far forward. And when you hear the co-founders of a bunch of these different social media companies, you hear them say, “I didn’t think that this is the way that it was going to be used.” But this is what humans do bring to the table when we sort of bring ethics and judgment and values, and try to think forward.

And this also has implications on the kinds of people you bring around the table to do that sort of analyses. It has to be a diverse group. It cannot just be young white male undergrads kind of thinking about this problem. It has to be a diverse group of folks kind of thinking about those volume impact repercussions. So, I think those real skills in exercising judgment are going to be critical, that we can’t rely on the AI to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, second-, third-order things. And I guess that makes sense to me in terms of like as I think about things that are like playing chess or Jeopardy or even like composing or painting, it’s sort of like they’re all kind of bounded in a way in terms of find the right answer, or the right move, or apply a principle of color or sound.

Michelle Weise
Right, they’re finite. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Versus saying, speculating as to what social media and how it will impact us with widespread adoption. That does seem harder to stick inside code. Anything else that we humans do great?

Michelle Weise
So, a couple of years ago, Amazon had tried to leverage AI to diversity their hiring processes, and they thought maybe AI could do a better job than humans. And so, they kind of built out this new system, the AI started kind of going through the diverse set of applications. And then it was the humans kind of watching and seeing the output to sort of identify, “Huh, kind of strange that so many of these folks are named Jarod. Or, a lot of them played lacrosse.”

And they started to realize, “Oh, my gosh, we’ve trained the AI on flawed data.” They kind of looked at their existing talent pool. They tried to sort of say, “These are the senior leaders at our company that do great work.” But what they did was they trained the AI to search for people that looked and sounded exactly like their existing leadership, and that is not a way that you diversify your talent pool.

And so, it took humans to kind of notice and sort of exercise some judgment to say, “Wait, something is wrong. Interrogate it. Look deeply, look into the data,” and sort of say, “Oh, okay. We’ve got a problem here.” Because the AI will only just kind of repeatedly get smarter and smarter with the data that it is trained on. And we see this also happening, unfortunately, in the legal system where we’re developing sentencing structures based on deeply inequitable past data of how we’ve punished people.

So, we need this kind of deep-thinking humans for the future who have enough domain expertise to be able to question the AI because we cannot just let it…the crazy thing is that most companies…

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Jarod is in here. Whatever you say, robot.

Michelle Weise
Yeah, most companies like don’t know if they can trust their AI right now. I have a statistic in the book where they are not comfortable auditing the sort of their existing AI.

Pete Mockaitis
Not comfortable auditing it?

Michelle Weise
Yes, so this is from an Accenture study that basically fewer than a third of companies surveyed have a high degree of confidence in the fairness and auditability of their AI systems, and less than half have similar confidence in the safety of those systems. So, we’re so reliant on these technologies and yet we don’t fully trust the algorithms that undergird them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I buy that even in a very easy example. I think about machine-generated transcription, which, I mean, that’s existed for 20, 30, 40 years and yet it’s still not great. I don’t know. If you have 98% accuracy, okay, that sounds really impressive, but that’s really still like three errors every minute. And so, in this conversation we’d have a hundred or two, and so I wouldn’t call that good.

And so, anyway, I just find that, I don’t know, not to be quite grouchy, but I’m a little skeptical myself in terms of maybe eventually it will be awesome but right now I’m not super impressed, and maybe I just haven’t been looking at the right places to blow me away.

Michelle Weise
No, what you are pointing out is what this MIT economist named Daron Acemoglu calls so-so automation. So, like when we think about just the rise of ATMs in the last few decades, what’s interesting about an ATM is that it is far better than a so-so technology because it actually completely made obsolete the role of a person counting money because it could do it really well.

And we don’t actually have a lot of technologies that we’re building today, the transcription one is a perfect example, or the robots that we use in warehouses where we have to depend on people as pick-and-packers to be able to sort of get the thing out of the robot’s sort of treasure trove and put it into a box.

So, we’re creating technologies that are just so-so. They’re not great enough to completely obviate a certain task. And, as a result, we’re not creating enough forms of truly creative labor. Because when ATMs kind of took over, what was fascinating to see is the sort of burgeoning of the services industry in banking. It wasn’t that people just became useless, it’s that they actually transferred their skills into different domains.

Here, what we’re having is a lot of kind of unfulfilling what researchers called ghost work. It’s this kind of interstitial stuff that we have to do on the backend even when we’re training AI. You have tons of people, these mechanical turkers who are working for cents on the dollar, who are identifying all the photos that are coming up from the AI to say, “That’s a face. That’s the same face as that one. That’s a body part. Ooh, that’s not a body part we want to show.”

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s a cat. That’s not a cat.” Right?

Michelle Weise
Exactly. And, “Not a hotdog. A hotdog.”

Pete Mockaitis
Silicon Valley.

Michelle Weise
But we have a lot of terrible work that’s emerging because of that not-great-enough technology. Right now, we’re in this awkward phase where we’re not creating enough forms of creative labor.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michelle, these are a lot of interesting ideas. I’d love it if we could sort of zoom in here now for the professional who are maybe in their 30s or 40s who got a lot of work left in their career before retirement, likely. So, what’s our game plan in terms of learning the right stuff effectively and well and keeping our careers moving in a great trajectory?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, I think one way forward is, unfortunately, for us as job seekers, a lot of the burden rests on us, and a lot of the financial risks also rests on us to make these decisions on our own. But moving into the future, what we really need to see and what, I think, will signify the kind of company that we want to work for are the ones who stop this kind of dis-investment in training their existing workforce and start to realize, “I have all this talent within. How do I help them acquire the skills they need to be successful?”

And I think the most powerful indicator of a company that is truly invested in us as job seekers are the ones that tell us, “You don’t have to do this on your own. We’re not going to just dangle tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement dollars and say, ‘Hey, we’re glad that you would like to advance your education. Go do it on your own time on top of everything else you’ve got going on in your lives.’”

The most competitive forward-thinking companies are going to realize that the workplace is really the classroom of the future. And I’m not talking about on-the-job compliance training, risk mitigation work, like sexual harassment training. I am talking about real new skills-building activities. So, it’s critical that the company not only identifies really transparent internal mobility pathways for you and for us, but it also has to be very explicit about carving out time in the flow of the workday for you to acquire those skills because it’s not fair for us to have to somehow squeeze it in on top of stitching together multiple part-time jobs, or all our caregiving activities. It’s too hard to just kind of stack that on top of everything else.

So, I think the things that we need to look out for the future are the companies that are truly invested in our reskilling and upskilling who kind of figure out ways to make that learning bite-sized, or for an hour a day, or an hour a week where we can be doing this in the flow of work. And, also, for educational institutions and providers to be able to modularized their learning in ways that’s more accessible where we’re not always bending to the sort of linear structure, the college or the university, but that it’s much more flexible and easily consumable.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s a beautiful world that I’d love for us to live in. And I guess part of why this podcast exists is that we’re not there, and it is a little bit of a do-it-yourself proposition for a lot of folks these days, and fair or not, pleasant or not, stressful. So, let’s talk to the professional who’s in an environment that’s not so enlightened with regard to offering some great learning opportunity, and let’s say even, hey, they’re a little mercenary, they’re just going to go take it, “At 11:00 a.m., when there’s no other meeting on the calendar, I’m just going to do me some learning.” What are some of the top resources you’d recommend to them? I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn Learning myself, but what else would you say in terms of, “All right, you got an hour. You’re going to do some learning,” what are some of your favorite places to go?

Michelle Weise
So, one that I talk about in the book is called GLEAC. And what they do is they make this kind of mobile-friendly learning apps where they just take minutes and they have folks, for instance, who are customer service or retail folks in Prada stores, as an example, where they’re building up their reflection and communication of this kind of human skills that they’re developing where they’re exercising their judgment. And they are these bite-sized learning applications that a worker can kind of leverage while they’re working.

Another one would be Mursion that I’m kind of really interested in.

So, we tend to think of executive coaching as reserved for people kind of mid-level managers and up. What Mursion enables us to do is practice those really important human skills in a low-stakes environment. So, giving feedback, receiving feedback, these really critical skills for success in the workforce but we generally only practice them in a high-stakes environment, when we actually have to give someone really tough feedback or when we’re receiving it from our bosses.

And, generally, I know whenever I do this, I leave the conversation sort of thinking about all the different ways in which I could’ve done it better. And this environment actually has avatars in front of you, and the quality of the imagery is good enough where you can notice different people’s nonverbal cues, and you hear their voices change, and so you have to be responsive in that moment.

And it’s actually this kind of interesting AI-powered platform that’s puppeteer-ed by one human also in the background, where the human can play the role of like six or seven different people with different voices and different characteristics. And so, it gives you that chance to practice negotiation, all these different kinds of skills that we need to get better at because the fascinating thing, just in general, with human skills is even though we’re human, we’re not very sophisticated at them. We actually have to practice these skills. And just because we take a LinkedIn Learning class on empathy, we’re not somehow going to become more emotionally intelligent just from taking that one class. We have to figure out ways to practice this. So, those are the kinds of innovations that I’m excited about.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, then, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Michelle Weise
One thing that might be important for job seekers to know about is the existence of different kinds of alternative learning providers kind of outside the traditional realm of colleges and universities. I think most people have heard of these things called coding bootcamps where you go and you get pretty savvy in web development or frontend development and you do this for 6 to 12 weeks, you pay $20,000 out of pocket, and maybe you get this great job.

Those have typically kind of been more geared to folks who already have a degree, sort of more affluent who can actually afford to pay out of pocket. But there are these interesting other set of providers that I call on-ramps where they do this kind of really important human skills-building work but they also help learners get skills in healthcare, advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, data science, enough to get hired by.

There are amazing stories of a US Postal Service worker becoming a quality assurance engineer for Facebook through this data science immersive program. And what they’re doing is that they’re actually stitching together that kind of career navigation with a very precise educational pathway with a direct connection to an employer.

And so, there are these kinds of opportunities available. It’s a matter of trying to, again, it’s back to us as the individual job seekers, the burden is on us to kind of find some of these. But a really interesting example of another one is one called Climb Hire we know that Salesforce administrators, they are a job that are in demand, that are in high demand. And so, what they’re doing is they’re building these skills but they’re also embedding social capital building into the learning process where they’re helping folks, who may not have the best professional networks, learn how important it is to build relationships, build professional networks.

And when a person actually gets a job at a company, as a Salesforce administrator, the onus is on them to refer and bring someone else into the company from Climb Hire because the CEO realized from LinkedIn data, as an example, that people are nine times more likely to get a job through a referral so they’re helping job seekers and learners really build this skill because it is something that you kind of have to learn how to do unless you’re sort of born into an incredible network.

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

Michelle Weise
So, you heard me talk about David Epstein who wrote Range, and he talks about deep learning, but he says, “The most effective learning looks inefficient. It looks like falling behind.” And I love this quote just because I think when we think about all the ways in which we are kind of channeled and incentivized to achieve, we’re always measuring through this kind of testing that is actually not measuring what matters.

And if we were actually to sort of really understand what kind of learners and that kind of deep learning in folks, it would actually look like failing. And I think that’s, I don’t know, that’s important for us to know.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Michelle Weise
Probably Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Michelle Weise
I have one of those keyboards that are split into two and kind of at an angle.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too.

Michelle Weise
I have some tendonitis, so.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I’ve got the Freestyle2 from Kinesis.

Michelle Weise
That’s what I have.

Pete Mockaitis
But you got the tents going. I didn’t get the tents. I just got the split because I’ve got, I guess, some wider shoulders and so I always found that I was…Yeah, so I like being able to stretch out and be me without having to crunch them in.

Michelle Weise
Yeah. I have the same exact one, the Freestyle2. Underneath you can flip out the thingies.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s right.

Michelle Weise
You know what I realized, I think I pressed the delete button so much that I actually really kind of hurt my wrist and needed to re-shift my posture.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that there’s something beautiful hiding in that. Perhaps it’s revision, commitment to excellence, iterating, learning, that meta stuff there.

Michelle Weise
Yeah, nothing you write is golden.

Pete Mockaitis
Not at first anyway. And how about a favorite habit?

Michelle Weise
Oh, walking.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re kind of known for, people quote back to you a lot?

Michelle Weise
Oh, I think maybe because I learned this from Clayton Christensen, one of the most powerful parts of the theories is when you see something that looks less than, our immediate kind of reflexes is to sort of scorn or disparage it or to dismiss it as, “Ah, it’s not an important innovation to pay attention to,” but Clay always said it could be just good enough. And that is something that I try to convey to folks. When we have that very human reflex, when we perceive newness as danger, that might be actually the precise time where we need to take a beat and look at the thing more carefully.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Michelle Weise
I’m always available through Twitter and LinkedIn @rwmichelle or I have a website called RiseAndDesign.io.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Michelle Weise
I think, in general, it’s still this concept of collaboration. I think we, generally, just because of the way we trained from K-12 on through college, it’s so often kind of this notion that things are a zero-sum game, where if you’re winning, I’m losing. But in this concept of kind of long life learning, there’s no winning list. And so, how do we actually change our behavior instead of always sort of trying to be the leader? How do we actually make sure we’re collaborating in truly distinctive ways? I think that’s something that I think about a lot. It’s a hard behavior to turn to given the way that we’re trained.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michelle, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your long life learning.

Michelle Weise
Thank you. You, too.

640: Why Being Qualified Isn’t Enough: How to Overcome Your Fear of Selling Yourself with Jena Viviano

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Jena Viviano says: "You cannot network only when you need something."

Jena Viviano shares her three-step process for making more successful career transitions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three sources of career clarity
  2. Why networking doesn’t have to feel sleazy 
  3. The three things recruiters are always looking for 

About Jena

Jena Viviano is an ex-Wall Streeter turned career coach and entrepreneur who helps ambitious professionals articulate their personal branded career stories to land their dream jobs. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jena Viviano Interview Transcript

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

Jena Viviano
Well, thank you for having me. I love your podcast. I’m a listener so it’s actually a huge honor to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, we’re going to be talking about job stuff, and I need to hear I understand LinkedIn had a role in your engagement story. We love LinkedIn here. Tell us all about this.

Jena Viviano
I love LinkedIn for so many reasons. But, yes, so LinkedIn is a part of my engagement story. My sister was in a job transition and she said, “Hey, can you come over the house? I need you to help you with my LinkedIn profile.” So, she took me to lunch to do her LinkedIn profile. Meanwhile, my now husband, then soon-to-be fiancé, was like decorating my apartment and getting it ready, so he had to get out of the house, and the ploy was to help with her LinkedIn, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s clever. And they had your number too, it’s like, “Okay, this is something she’ll bite on, LinkedIn.”

Jena Viviano
Exactly. They’re like, “Oh, she’ll help with that. She loves LinkedIn. She’ll totally help you with that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. Very cool. Well, so I’m excited to dig into your wisdom here. Can you start us off by maybe sharing what’s one of the most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made in terms of all your years of career coaching?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, gosh, I think the number one thing that I’ve realized with coaching hundreds, honestly, probably at this point, over a thousand people on a one-on-one basis and in groups and courses and whatnot, is that people don’t realize that in order to be successful in the job search process, it’s not enough to just be “qualified.” It’s not enough to just have a really solid resume. You really have to know how to sell yourself and to treat your own career almost as if it’s the brand. And a lot of people don’t even think like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’ll be fun to dig in. But when you say you are a brand, I’m thinking of a scene from the TV series Entourage.

Jena Viviano
Okay, I’ve never watched that show.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. It’s kind of trashy, so. Well, so anyway, I’m not going to go into too much detail here. But our star, Vincent Chase was considering going with a different agent, and as he was going to these different agencies, they all had the same video that they thought was really cool, and they’re like, “McDonald’s, Starbucks, Apple, Vincent Chase. Like, you are a brand.”

And so, maybe let’s just get that covered right away. What do you mean by “You’re a brand”? How is that different from a corporate brand and how is it similar? And how does it inform our thinking?

Jena Viviano
Yeah. So, I would say you have a brand whether you’re cultivating it or not. Most people, nowadays, have some type of online presence, some type of digital presence, right? So, our LinkedIn profile is a perfect example. We’re talking about LinkedIn. You have a brand, who you are, what you’re about, what you have to offer, the value that you bring. That’s all a part of your personal brand. What’s your value proposition? What are you bringing to the marketplace? Very similar to a corporate brand.

The problem is that people who are 9-to-5 jobs don’t think like that. We think, “Okay, I just have to have the qualifications, I should get the job,” when, really, we have to position ourselves as candidates for the job for our “audience,” or our ideal market, the employers. And too many people don’t think from that perspective which becomes a problem when you’re applying and trying to differentiate yourself from the hundreds of candidates that are all applying to the same job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then if having the qualifications isn’t enough, then what should we be doing? Like, kind of what are the key steps? You’ve got a program, Recruit the Employer? If someone is job-hunting now or will be soon, what’s their step one, step two, step three?

Jena Viviano
Start before you’re ready. I think that’s the first part is start thinking about it before you’re ready. A lot of people think that, “Once I’ve decided to make a career change, that’s going to happen immediately.” And that’s just not what we’re seeing pre-COVID times, post-COVID times. It’s just it takes a while especially if you’re at a more senior-level position and you’re trying to be strategic in your career move.

So, the first thing you really need to do is understand, “Where the heck am I going?” Clarity is a huge portion of the puzzle. A lot of people will first go to their resume, “Hey, I’m just going to read you my resume. That just needs to get done.” It feels like we’re doing and accomplishing something, but oftentimes it’s either, if we’re having somebody else do it, it’s a waste of money if we don’t know what we’re using it for.

So, the first step, really, in that process is understanding, “What do I actually want in my career?” And the second step is understanding, “What’s valuable? What do I have to offer? What’s the value that I can bring to the table?” And the third step would really be about marketing yourself to that job. So, understanding, “What does that employer care about? Those jobs that I’m targeting, what makes me different than every other candidate out there?” So, that would be the first three steps, is, first, getting clarity; second, really understanding the value that you bring; and, three, crafting a narrative to sell yourself in front of those employers.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s very nicely organized. Three simple sections. Let’s dig into each of them. So, clarity, I think I’m a weird kid in that I knew I wanted to be doing people-development-y things when I was in high school.

Jena Viviano
That’s impressive. You are lucky.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve learned that most people are not that way and many people struggle with like, “Oh, what is it I really want?” So, how do we arrive at that clarity?

Jena Viviano
Gosh, there’s a zillion different ways to go about it, but I would say that we first need to think about it. I think a lot of people go to college. And, for myself, so I went to high school, I was told I should go get a finance degree and a marketing degree so I did both those things. I went in investment banking and realized I was really bad at finance on Wall Street. Not exactly the best place to figure that out, right?

And so, I had to start to ask questions about, “What are my actual skills and gifts? What are the things that light me up? What am I doing when I’m thriving?” And then understand, “Okay, now where does that fit into the marketplace? Where are people looking for skills like mine? And how can I reposition myself for the job?”

So, I was working at the New York Stock Exchange, and I realized, yeah, I wasn’t really good at finance, but I was really good at selling, I was really good at communicating with the CEOs of these companies that would come in, I had a marketing brain. And so, I started to move more in the sales direction, and it was only through the experience of reflecting and really asking questions to people around me, like, “What do you think I’m good at?” I would ask my coworkers that question. I was pretty bold. Like, “What do you think I’m good at? What do you think I’m not good at?” so I could understand for myself and get a little bit of clarity around, “Okay, where can I lean into my strengths instead of just trying to make up for my weaknesses?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you reflect, you ask people questions. Are there extra questions or extra ways to get answers that are really valuable?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I think another piece of the puzzle is actually going into the marketplace and seeing what’s available. I did this experiment when I was trying to figure out what the heck I wanted to do in my next move knowing it was not finance. I started to explore companies that I thought were really interesting. And within those companies, I would actually dig into their careers page and see what jobs even looked fascinating to me. So, I was really lost, right?

So, I could actually dive into these job descriptions and say, “Yeah, I’m not qualified for that yet,” or, like, “That’s many years in the future but I could see that path and I’m interested in what that type of role would have.” So, I’d say from a very practical standpoint, it’s actually seeing what’s available nowadays. And then, apart from that, it’s actually having real conversations.

So, we’re talking about that, the reflecting piece, the really diving in and doing your own research, and then, finally, having conversations with people who do that actual job, asking for informational interviews, and having those conversations, wondering what’s in a day in the life look like, “Am I even going to like this thing that I want to get into?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so then, it sounds like that’s actually, well, maybe I’m just a dork this way. That sounds like a lot of fun in terms of, “Well, let’s explore.”

Jena Viviano
I thought it was fun too.

Pete Mockaitis
“Let’s explore. Let’s see what’s there.” I remember, again, high school Pete, I was playing around the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Jena Viviano
Wow! You really were interested young.

Pete Mockaitis
A fun time. As well as I was just reading books about success goals, studying teamwork, whatever, and like, “Those guys seem like they have cool jobs. They get to coach and speak and write and talk about this cool stuff.” So, yeah, what are some of the best resources there? So, one, I just dropped the governmental one. And then there’s actually the job postings that are up and out there. Are there any other particular books, websites, tools that are handy in exploring the whole wide world there?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, you know, I have not found one that I’ve loved, so I don’t feel comfortable necessarily sharing, “Hey, this is the one to see. This is the one you should take to read up on and figure out all the different careers that are out there.” I really think that having conversations and actually utilizing LinkedIn to your advantage and seeing who to network with, to understand what do other people do in really cool companies that you’re interested in.

Here’s the thing, I worked with a lot of people, and the majority of people leave jobs not necessarily because of their job function but because of the people that they are working with or the cultures that they’re a part of. So, I’m actually a huge proponent of making people first look at the company and really diving into companies that they love to find opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you tell us some pro tips there in terms of using LinkedIn and connecting with people, how do we play that game in terms of finding the people and crafting a message that won’t get blown off and having them show up and asking useful things of them when we have them?

Jena Viviano
Yeah. So, can I ask you a question?

Pete Mockaitis
Take it away.

Jena Viviano
Like, tell me what you think of when you think of the word networking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so funny. I’ve been reprogrammed on this.

Jena Viviano
Yeah, you’re like, “It’s fun.”

Pete Mockaitis
On this very specific point. So, I’ll tell you what I used to think and what I think now.

Jena Viviano
How about that? Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we’ll go with both answers. So, I used to think networking is like, “Hey, I got business cards in both hands, and I’m dropping them left and right. I say let’s do lunch. And I’m at a mixer or a cocktail party, and I’m kind of working the room and kind of moving…”

Jena Viviano
It’s uncomfortable. It feels sleazy, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, anyway, that was my old vision. And now I think of networking as just building relationships, like you meet people, you see what’s interesting about them, what they’re into, you see how you could be helpful to them, maybe send them a link or a resource or a joke or a something that will tickle them in their particular way of being, and their needs. And then, over time, it’s like, “Hmm, I can reach out to a ton of people to get some advice or guidance or direction. No problem.”

Jena Viviano
Yeah. And I would say that a lot of people still think the former of what you thought. It’s sleazy. It’s uncomfortable. I always tell people networking should not be awkward. Networking should not be uncomfortable. It should not be sleazy. It should be pushing you outside your comfort zone, sure. But, really, at the end of the day, networking is just what you described. It is mutually beneficial, professional relationships that are developed over time. You cannot network only when you need something. And that’s where people get it wrong with networking where they think, “Oh, I need a new job. I need to be networking. Yes, networking feels uncomfortable then.”

But if you’re nurturing and cultivating a group of contacts that you are building into relationships and being in relationship with, it’s not going to be uncomfortable when you say, “Hey, I’m looking for an XYZ opportunity at XYZ company. Could you introduce me? I know you know someone there.” Like, that becomes easier. So, actually, networking really needs to be looked at as a way of life and not like a one-hit wonder that we often treat it like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Okay. So, that’s the mindset that we’ve adapted. So, check, we got it. And then how do we start finding these people?

Jena Viviano
Yes. So, I said there’s usually four levels of networking. They’re actually your friends and family. A lot of people forget that your personal networking can still be a part of your professional network, especially if you’re a career-changer. And I actually did this in my own career when I was working at the New York Stock Exchange, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I would tap my friend network, and I said, “Hey, I know you guys aren’t in sales or finance or fashion,” or whatever else I was interested in, “but do you happen to know somebody who is that I could talk to about their career, and what they’ve done, and pros and cons, and what to look out for?”

And there are people that I grew up with that I forgot that they’re parents, were like head of sales at a company. So, we forget sometimes that our own network, our personal relationships, while they themselves may not have a contact, they may know somebody. So, that is the first level.

The second level is potentially current and past colleagues. Depending on your relationship with people that you work with, maybe you feel comfortable asking questions with your current coworkers, but also people who have moved on from your company, especially if you’re looking to change positions or you’re looking to stay within the industry but change to a different company. Those people probably went into a different company and are doing something similar, so they’re a great people to tap and to keep those relationships flourishing.

I know, for myself, on a quarterly basis, still, I’ve been out of corporate for a while now, I still reach out to people that I worked with in corporate because I want to keep those relationships fresh, I value those relationships, and I find them really beneficial. So, that’s the second level. The third level is actually alumni networks. A lot of people forget that your universities still want you to stay connected, and there’s actually a really easy way to search for people that went to your college. You can actually go onto LinkedIn, you can find your school’s page, you can click on a button that says alumni, and you can actually search for someone at your ideal company to talk to them a little bit about what they’ve been doing. You have that easy kind of in because you both went to the same university. So, that’s a little hack.

And then I would say the fourth level of networking is cold outreach. It’s the most uncomfortable but I have actually used it in most of my personal job transitions and where I really encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and reach out to people that they don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve been pleasantly surprised a few times when I kind of pushed people for benchmarks, statistics on cold outreach effectiveness. It’s way better than I expected.

Jena Viviano
Why do you think that is? I see the same thing, for me, personally. Do you think it’s just practice?

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s…and I want to hear your numbers, roughly to the extent you have them. I think it’s just because it’s something human in terms of it’s like, we’ve all been there in terms of trying to figure out what’s next and get in there, those opportunities, and not quite knowing what to do. And so, I think there’s just a little bit of a karmic obligation that is in us, our psyches, and it just feels pretty good to help in terms of it’s like, “Wow, if I can have a 15-minute conversation with somebody and that’s going to either help them avoid a job they’re going to hate or get closer to a job they’re going to love, that’s going to impact the years of their life and thousands of hours of their life, and it’s just going to take me 15 minutes, that feels like a pretty good return on my philanthropic time.” So, I like it.

Jena Viviano
Yeah, you have a good attitude about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, it doesn’t mean I’m a saint. I don’t always take them but, you know, I do, frequently. And so, that’s just my raw speculation. What do you think?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, no, I totally agree. I think there’s a couple of things. It’s a matter of how the candidate or the individual reaches out to the contact, so I think it’s never what you say, it’s how you say it. You could say the same thing, “Hey, I want your time,” and, “Hey, I want your time,” but say it in two different ways and get two different responses.

So, what I recommend for people is if you’re reaching out to somebody, customize it. Don’t send them a copy-paste whatever. Send them something that’s customized that’s going to show that you paid attention to them. Maybe you’ve listened to their podcast, or you love what their company is doing, or you see that their teams have worked on something, maybe it’s something on their LinkedIn profile you can relate to. Just customize it a little bit actually goes a long way.

And then having a very clear specific ask. Here’s the problem with a lot of networking messages. I get them all the time. I’ll get somebody who reaches out to me, and they’ll say, “Hey, I would love to chat with you. Let me know if you’re available next week.” I have no idea what their goal is, I have no idea how long they want, none of those things. So, what you want to do is you want to be very clear on, “Hey, I’m looking to explore a career in sales,” I’m just going to use that example. “I’m looking to explore a career in sales. I see that you’ve made some job transitions in your life. Would you be open to chatting for 15 to 30 minutes? I have three questions I wanted to ask you. No pressure if not.” So, it’s being very specific and also giving them an out. You’re not backing them into a corner. If they can’t do it, they’re actually probably more likely to tell you, “Hey, I can’t do it,” or, “Actually, I’ll help on the phone with you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. I dig it. And three questions, I like it because, one, that’s short and doable, manageable so I can handle three questions. And, two, it’s a little intriguing, like, “Oh, what are the three questions?”

Jena Viviano
Yeah. And, to your point, like people want to help and also people love talking about themselves. So, if you’re giving them an opportunity to talk about themselves, they’re going to be into that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so let’s fast forward a little bit. So, we’ve got clarity, “So, this is what I’m about. This is what I want.” We’ve got opportunity. That sounds really juicy and that’s just what I’m shooting for specifically. We’ve got a great networking mindset and we’ve got some folks who have given us some insight, so that really does sound like a great place to be. So, now what? We’ve got it in our crosshairs. What do we do now?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I think part of it is still leveraging your networking connections. Seventy percent of jobs are placed through connections. And so, whether you’re having that soft ask, you’re just asking somebody for a connection time, or you’re realizing, “Hey, this hiring manager is on LinkedIn. I’m going to reach out to them and proactively tell them how I can bring value.”

So, I think the next step really is understanding, “What is the value that I can bring? What does that person really care about, that hiring manager care about?” And I kind of distill it down to when you’re reading a job description, or when somebody is hiring you, you got to be thinking about it from their perspective. They’re not just hiring you to hire a body, right? They’re having you be hired for a specific purpose. And I have never found a reason, not one of these three things basically. You’re either going to save a company money, make a company money, or make someone’s life easier. Whether you’re a janitor or the CEO, you’re doing one or multiple of those three things.

So, when you’re positioning yourself for a job, if you’re having trouble understanding, like, “What is the value I can bring?” figure out which one of those three buckets you’re sitting in so you can tell your story in a way that’s going to be compelling to that employer.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent.

Jena Viviano
Yeah. So, I would say that most of it comes down to you’re understanding your story, and then, very specifically, you are either reaching out to people for a networking capacity, you’re having those conversations and telling them where you can provide value, or you’re applying online. I usually say about 80% of your time should be networking and about 20% of your time should be applying online. And then from there, once you’re given the opportunity to actually get in the door, you’re going to be able to tell that story.

I’ve worked with people who have not had any experience maybe with interviewing well, and don’t know how to tell their story, and they’re kind of all over the place, and then you bring it some structure and you actually understand the psychological implications of why someone would want to hire you, it actually becomes a piece of cake.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us about that structure and how we execute that well.

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I think the best way to describe it is with the number one question everybody hates, “Tell me about yourself.” Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, they say that.

Jena Viviano
The first question we all get is, “Tell me about yourself.” It’s kind of that first impression, it’s that do or die moment, and a lot of people muddy it up. We think, “Should I talk about my whole career? Do I talk about my dog? Do I tell you about my spouse? Like, what do I talk about in that question?” And I usually say break it up into three parts.

You talk a little bit about what you’re doing right now and how that’s making an impact for the company that you’re currently a part of. You tell a brief story, very brief, about how you got there, highlighting the key pieces that are relevant to the job description and any information that you gleaned before that interview. And, finally, landing on why you’re excited to be talking to that individual and why you’re excited about the organization.

So, it’s very simple. It does not need to be overcomplicated: where you are now, how you got there, what you’re excited about for the future.

Pete Mockaitis
And is that 30 seconds, one minute, two minutes?

Jena Viviano
I’d say don’t go farther than two minutes. It should be anywhere between one to two.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is nice to demystify. So, we don’t talk about the dog or the spouse.

Jena Viviano
You can but my personal opinion is that’s kind of in the rapport-building whether you’re having a conversation in the sidelines, but when you’re actually asked an interview question, they want to cut to the chase. They want to know, ‘How are you going to help us? How are you going to help us reach our goals? How are you going to make my life easier? And I want to know that first.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, hey, that was awesome, so a tricky question, “Tell me about yourself,” and a simple approach. I like that.

Jena Viviano
Simple. Don’t complicate it.

Pete Mockaitis
Give us more of those. What are common tricky questions and then the right way to answer them.

Jena Viviano
Yeah. We can talk about interview questions from strengths and weaknesses, that’s a big one. Everyone is like, “I don’t know what my strengths are. I don’t know what my weaknesses are.” And I think we look at this question wrong. We think that an employer is out to get us, like they’re going to take us and they’re going to be like, “Jeez, we just want to make sure that you’re answering the questions wrong. We don’t want to hire you.” No, they want you to succeed. They want to see if you’re self-aware.

So, when asked that question, I would pick up a very specific strength that you have, that you have an applicable story to tell, “So, I’m good at this. Here’s an example of how I’ve exemplified that in the past.” And then for a weakness, just make sure it’s not like the key thing you need to do the job well. Like, if your core function within your role is to be in Excel, and you tell them you’re bad at Excel, you probably shouldn’t be applying to the job.

So, it’s more about a weakness that’s relevant to the job, it’s not a fake thing, it’s not like perfectionism – I hate that weakness – but a real weakness that you have, and then what you’re doing to overcome it, and what you’re doing to put steps in place to make sure that that weakness doesn’t detract from your quality of work.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just thinking right now, like, “What are my weaknesses?” Sometimes I think I’m lazy.

Jena Viviano
Oh, really?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, but what it really is I’m profoundly demotivated by pointless stuff that’s not truly value-added and leveraged. And it’s like, “I want no part of that.” Although, I can get really jazzed about figuring out how to outsource it, “What’s the process and system by which I can make this disappear from my life forever? Ooh, let’s spend hours on that. That’s a juicy problem.”

Jena Viviano
I’d say mine is procrastination. Like, that is always, ever since I was a little girl, procrastination is definitely not a positive thing and I’ve always struggled with procrastination. It was always my example, I procrastinate. But this is how I try to make sure that it doesn’t happen in the future. So, you can have real weaknesses and still get a job.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. All right. Well, hey, give us another one. A common tricky question and the best way to approach it.

Jena Viviano
Yeah. “Why should we hire you for this job?” I think that goes back to selling yourself, right? A lot of people do think that they just need to be qualified on paper, 2D, but you really have to bring that story to life. So, when you’re thinking about preparing for the answer of, “Why should we hire you?” and even if they don’t ask that question directly, you should be answering that question throughout the entirety of your interview. That’s what they want to know, “Why should we hire you?”

And, really, what you want to be thinking about are, “What are the three main functions of that job and how can you do that better than anybody else?” And expressing that, we’re breaking it up into three, I’m using threes a lot on purpose, it’s easy for us to remember, it’s easy for people to listen to. So, you just break it up into three parts, “What are the three main functions of the job that the person who does this job has to do really well?” And then explaining the story around how you’ve done that in the past.

Now, let’s say, for instance, you have a glaring objection, like you have a glaring thing you have not done. Maybe you haven’t been capable of, for myself, I was in sales and I never had a sales job. I was applying for a sales position. And so, I actually brought up the elephant in the room, I said, “You should hire me because I don’t actually have that traditional sales experience. But if you’re looking for somebody that’s able to come to the table, that’s going to be able to talk to seniors, C-suite leaders, and help your company get to the next round of funding, I’m going to be the person for the job.”

So, make sure you have confidence of declaring and acknowledging the elephant in the room but also expressing how you’re going to be able to work around it.

Pete Mockaitis
And, in that example, I don’t know if I picked up on how you not having sales experience is an asset.

Jena Viviano
Yes, true. So, I didn’t go fully into all the details around that but mostly the position that I was speaking about, that individual was asking, “Why should we hire you?” and they had had the question, “Hey, you don’t necessarily have that sales experience,” and I said, “I don’t have that sales experience but here are three other ways that I do have experience that’s similar to sales, and how I would plan on bringing that market to life basically.” So, I was expressing to them the plan that I had in place to actually make that happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Right on. Okay. Well, so then let’s keep it rolling. Any other tough questions, simple answers?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, tough questions. What do you feel like is a tough interview question that you’ve experienced?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s sort of tricky because I kind of know the answers, but let’s just go with it, “Tell me about a time you failed.”

Jena Viviano
Yeah, “Tell me about a time you failed.” That’s a really big one that I feel like a lot of people get scared about and think that they can’t fail. And I actually gave a really bad answer to this in an interview, and the interviewer called me out on it, “That’s not a real failure.” So, you should always express a failure that you own but also what you learned from it. It’s all about the learning. It’s a self-awareness question, it’s a behavioral question where you’re getting asked, “What is that failure but then how did you overcome it?” That’s really what they want to know.

Pete Mockaitis
And what about, I love it when…so, there’s the get-real precise, like, “Tell me about a time in which…” and so then there’s like several very specific layers. And it’s just like, “I don’t think there’s ever been a time that that’s happened to me.” What do you do there?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I think, again, we have to think about why are they asking that question. They’re wanting to see, “Can you think on your feet?” They’re wanting to see, “How would you approach a situation should that situation ever come up?” And you could literally say, “I’ve never had that situation come up but this is how I’d approach it.” I’m never encouraging people to lie in their interviews, but if you’ve never had that experience, say that you’ve never had it, but then explain “If that was happening in real time, this is how I would approach it. And here’s like the three steps that I would do to solve that issue.”

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s your take on, I think, for me, Sethi is going to be on the show soon. Woohoo. Talk about the briefcase technique or providing more or less in your interview unveiling your plan. Like, “I’ve already thought a lot about the challenges facing this team, this organization, in this role, and here’s how I would go about getting after it.” What do you think about that approach? Pros? Cons? Suggestions?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I think there’s pros and cons to it. I think if you’re really early on in the process, I’m not a fan of it just because I feel like you’re giving a lot away. And I think a lot of people get stressed out about that, like, “I’m giving away my information. What if they don’t hire me? They’ll just take my information and then they go on their merry way.”

I think it’s really effective though, especially if you’re a career-changer and you don’t have a lot of experience proof, but to explain how you would actually come to their company and fix some things and what your plan of action would be, your 30-, 60-, 90-plan. I think it’s really effective to prove that you’re capable of doing the job. So, I think it depends on your own situation, but I’m a fan of it later on in the interview process.

Pete Mockaitis
And anything you recommend that we don’t do? Anything that’s just old, bad, misguided advice that’s out there?

Jena Viviano
I see a lot of people actually come into the interviews too early. I know that sounds crazy but they come to the interviews too early, and especially when we were in person. People would come to those interviews and you’re actually detracting from whoever is trying to host you or whatnot. It becomes really, really uncomfortable. So, that would be the first thing. So, just come on time or about 10 minutes before. You don’t need to be showing up like hours beforehand.

I would say, also with the interview process, is not following up or not knowing what next steps look like. I see that happen a lot with people where they don’t ask those very specific questions of, “What do next steps look like? I’m really excited about this organization,” and providing that follow-up, asking, “What’s going on next?” and asking them to be transparent.

Jena Viviano
I would say another thing outside of just the interview, just in general in the job search process, we forget how important mindset and confidence is in this entire process. Like, work is not transactional. It’s actually highly emotional. And so, there’s a lot of emotions that go into the job search process. And sometimes we think we just need a really solid strategy when, really, we need to probably change our mindsets. We probably do need to change our strategy, but we also need to think about ourselves different in the application process.

If we don’t believe that we deserve to be in the room, and I see this with women all the time, if we don’t believe that we deserve to be in the room, if we don’t believe we deserve to be interviewing there, we’re not going to do really well throughout the entire process. So, I think that there’s a huge mindset component that a lot of career coaches and just in the career space we don’t really talk about because it feels fluffy. We like strategy because it feels very practical, but I think you need both things married together to be successful in the job application process.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, hey, let’s say you don’t feel like you deserve to be interviewed, what do you do about that?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I would say part of it comes down to, “What lies are you believing about yourself? And who told you that?” I see it with women all the time. I see women, I’ll be talking to a man on the phone, and I’ll be talking to a woman on the phone who’s interested in our services, and this literally just happened recently. I had a man on the phone who said, “I got let go from my job but in my next job, I want to be making $50,000 more.” And I have my female who says the complete opposite, “I got let go from my job. I’m okay if I’m only making $30,000 less than before.” This is the common narrative.

So, I think, first, part of it is for us as women, and men, to be unlearning the lies that we have believed that we’re not good enough, that we don’t have something to bring to the table because we haven’t spent the time to actually write through what is the value that we can bring and to reflect on our key accomplishments that we’ve had over the past year, five years, ten years, however long we’ve been in the industry for. So, that’s a very practical thing, is to actually sit down and reflect on your key accomplishments and what you’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, in so doing, I suppose you take a step back and go, “Hotdog! A lot of good stuff. Check it out.”

Jena Viviano
That’s part of it but I think part of it is acting, too. So, we’re talking about networking, we were talking about actually taking steps. Where a lot of people sit in the mind space of, “I’m not good enough.” Instead, we really need to be having conversations with people. We really need to be putting ourselves out there. And the more that you do that, the more comfortable you get with rejection. The more comfortable you get with rejection, the easier it becomes to continue to actually move forward. So, resilience is one of the top things I talk about a lot in my programs with my women, is, “You’ve got to be resilient throughout the process and know that there’s going to be rejection that happens. That means you’re doing something and you just got to keep pushing forward.”

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I love that. And I’ll tell you I think one of the best experiences of my life was…so, I wrote a book in college, and I ended up self-publishing it. But before I chose that route, I reached out to all these publishers. And so, this is a little old-school, you know. So, I sent them the one-page query letter, just like the books told me to, and so I sent like 200 something of these out. And so then, to have that daily experience where day after day after day, I opened the physical mailbox and there’s, I don’t know, two, three, six letters back to me, and almost all of them say no again and again and again was just so valuable because it’s kind of like, for the hundredth time I’ve been rejected, and for the hundredth time I’m not dead. So, I highly recommend it. Getting rejected a ton. How else do we get over it?

Jena Viviano
I think a lot of people, we try to avoid it as much as possible. And so, then when it does happen, we really think we’re the worst things ever. But if you’re just used to getting rejected or just used to putting yourself out there and not getting the exact result that you wanted, it’s actually going to build that resilience and make you more confident. What I personally found in my own career and with other people that I’ve worked with, the more at that you get, the better opportunities that you have in the future.

I’ve seen this happen with one of our clients. She came to us and she didn’t really know what she had to offer. She literally couldn’t tell you. I asked her, “What do you do?” And she’s like, “I really have nothing.” And after our time working together, she really went through this mental transformation of realizing, “Oh, I’m actually good at what I do. Actually, what I do is differentiated from other people, and this is valuable to organizations.” She ended up getting an offer at another company, was going to be working for a leader that she really admired, was going to be making more money, and she, at that point, felt confident she was like, “No, I’m actually going to turn that down because I want to launch my business.” Like, that’s a level of confidence that I want to see most women have.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool.

Jena Viviano
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we kind of skipped past the resume because that’s not the first thing to do and it’s not the end-all be-all, although it’s very concrete and specific. It feels like you did a thing when you’re done. But lay it on us a couple of do’s and don’ts for the resume to make it awesome.

Jena Viviano
I’d say the first don’t is don’t spend all your time doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Ooh, that’s a nice don’t.

Jena Viviano
Just don’t do it. Here’s the thing, your LinkedIn profile is like passive income, it works for you while you sleep. Your resume is only going to work for you when you submit it. So, we have all these people that are spending all this time tweaking their resume and updating it when a recruiter only looks at it for six seconds. So, yes, you need a solid resume. Does it need to share your accomplishments? Do you need to quantify as many things as possible to make it easier for that recruiter or hiring manager to understand how you’ve been able to bring value? Yes, yes, and yes. But the hours that I hear people are spending on their resume makes me nuts. I go nuts. So, I think the main thing would be just stop spending so much time and I would rather you spend more time engaging on LinkedIn, which is actually going to work in your favor.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Well, Jena, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jena Viviano
No, I would say the big things is that if you’re thinking about making a job transition, start before you’re ready, start before you’re like, “I need to leave now.” And then I would say get yourself a plan. Don’t walk into this and try the do it yourself route. Really create a plan for yourself. Either get help from somebody or create a plan because no one ever taught you actually how to find a job. Our colleges, unfortunately, didn’t teach us how to do that. And so, by creating a plan and knowing the story that you want to tell about your own career, those are the two most important pieces to the puzzle.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, it’s actually from my dad. He said this to me when I was leaving investment banking and I was really upset, I felt like I was failing everybody, including myself and my boss, and he said, “You know, Jena, a company is only going to be as loyal to you as what makes financial sense for them. So, if you need to leave for health reasons or personal reasons, it’s okay.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is very true. There may be some rare exceptions with small family-owned closely-held whatever organizations but for the most part it’s kind of like, “Oh, hey, the market dipped. Okay, 3,000 heads got to go, and you’re one of them.”

Jena Viviano
Yeah. And I think that we take it very personally because it is very personal but I think when we adopt that mindset, it also allows us as individuals to make choices and be strategic and take back our careers and quit waiting for an employer to tell us what’s next. We actually dare to take ownership of that.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I would say right now I’ve done a lot this past year around rest and there is one book by a gentleman Alex, I’m going totally butcher his name, but it’s a blue book. I can picture it in my brain. And he talks about the rhythms of the most creative people and how rest is a huge part of that. And I took a two-month sabbatical this year and so I’ve just been really studying how rest can actually benefit us in our work.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And, well, I was going to ask about a favorite book. It sounds it might be the resting book. But any others?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I would say this is such a cheesy entrepreneurship one. The first one that got me introduced to entrepreneurship was The 4-Hour Workweek. I think that everybody’s but I love me some old-school Tim Ferris.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, I love Loom.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too.

Jena Viviano
It’s fantastic. We use it for training videos. I’ll send a client something. We use it all the time. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, morning routine. So, for me, it looks like getting up around 6:00 o’clock, it’s making my coffee, it’s having some quiet time with Morning Pages. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. It’s basically writing freehand three pages of whatever is in my head, dumping it down. And then I’m a Christian so I read my Bible in the morning, and then I’m getting in the shower and getting ready to go to work.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share with clients that really seems to connect and resonate; they quote it back to you often?

Jena Viviano
Probably the “Don’t network when you need something.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jena Viviano
Yeah, RecruitTheEmployer.com is the best place to find all things me and Recruit the Employer.

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

Jena Viviano
Yes, I would say to take action today. So, pick one thing that we talked about, whether it’s figuring out your strategy, or you’re writing down an answer to an interview question, you’re networking with one person. Take one of the things that we talked about and start taking action today.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jena, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you lots of luck in your adventures.

Jena Viviano
Thank you so much.

634: How to Get Ahead in Your Career by Developing Your Professional Value with Don Miller

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Don Miller says: "The only way you make money is you make somebody else more money."

Don Miller shares how to advance your career even without the need for a fancy title or degree.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The critical skills an MBA doesn’t teach you 
  2. The harsh truth every professional must accept to succeed 
  3. How to craft a compelling business case 

About Don

Donald Miller is the CEO of Business Made Simple (BusinessMadeSimple.com), an online platform that teaches business professionals everything they need to know to grow a business and enhance their personal value on the open market. He is the host of the Business Made Simple Podcast and is the author of several books including the bestseller Building a StoryBrand. He lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Elizabeth. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Don Miller Interview Transcript

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

Don Miller
I’m so glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am excited to talk about your latest work Business Made Simple. And one of your theses is that we don’t so much need a college degree or a bachelor’s or MBA for career success, and that’s actually your own story personally. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Don Miller
Yeah, perhaps I have a chip on my shoulder but I grew up really poor and mom wasn’t home till about 7:00 p.m. and so I just learned bad habits and didn’t pay much attention in school. So, it wasn’t until, gosh, I think I was 25 or 26 that I even discovered that I wanted a career. I sort of felt sorry for myself with my friends off to college, and thought, “Well, I have to go back to college and figure this out.”

But a guy happened to give me a job in the warehouse of a publishing company, and I was just going to wait a year and then go to school because I had moved state and was going to get residency. Within four years, I was president of the publishing company and just discovered that I had a knack for business like some people do. And it happened to be a publishing company and so I was interacting with authors, and so I just thought I want to write my own book. And wrote a book, and that book ended up being on the New York Times’ bestseller’s list for about a year.

So, I left the publishing company and started just being a memoirist for a long time. And then about the time they wanted me to write my 8th memoir, I realized that if you write your 8th memoir, you’re a clinical narcissist. And so, I just wanted to be a regular narcissist, not a clinical narcissist so I switched gears and actually wrote a business book, because in order to be an author, I had to start my own little private enterprise, and I had ran a publishing company so I wrote a book about storytelling and how to clarify your business’ story. And that book ended up selling half a million copies.

And, suddenly, I had 30 employees and we scaled this business to, we’ll do about 20 million this year. We did that about five years. And I realized that the whole time, and I think your listeners will really understand this, the whole time I was scaling the business, it was just chaos. It was just organized chaos. And the more people I met who had business degrees and the more people I hired who had business degrees, none of them knew how to fix it.

And what I realized now is that from zero to 10 million, it’s basically chaos anyway. You have to just sort of lead and guide the chaos. So, I wrote Business Made Simple as almost the blue-collar version, almost the trade school version of business school. Where in a business school, you’d go and you’d read a whitepaper on trade with China, you’d study a Volkswagen ad from 1973 and how to reach suburban housewives five decades ago, and none of that, none of it, you use when you actually get a job in the business world.

In fact, business degrees, I’m convinced, really just get you an interview and to the bottom rung of the ladder. At least they get you on the ladder, which is great. But then you have to figure out how to climb the ladder. And what we found was the hidden staircase. We found that there was a certain order of skills that you had to develop as your company got bigger.

And I turned around and started explaining those to people in short five-minute videos. A 100,000 people signed up for those videos, and realized, “You know what, if I took a year and really organized this well, it could be better than a business degree.”

And so, the book now, it comes out January 19th and it’s called Business Made Simple. It’s 60 daily entries. You pour a cup of coffee, you read the daily entry, and then you get a video that day in your email box. And it will literally teach you how to negotiate a contract, how to sell, how to give a speech, how to manage a group of people, how to run an execution framework. It’ll teach you how to clarify a message, how to create a marketing sales funnel, how to create mission statement and guiding principles.

My favorite is the first 10 entries, are just the character of a value-driven professional, what characteristics do people have who tend to climb the corporate ladder very, very quickly and make a lot of money. So, I love this book. It’s the book that I wish I had when I was 22 years old, right when I realized I should’ve gotten to college like my friends. And now I hand it out to college grads, saying, “Here’s what you should’ve learned when you paid all that money for school.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Boy, there’s so much I want to dig into. So, the hidden staircase is a particular set of skills. Is that fair?

Don Miller
It is, yeah. I think it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Like Liam Neeson.

Don Miller
That’s right. Less deadly. Less people are dead at the end of it. More people have more money at the end of it. But, yeah, I really think it is. And it’s actually amazing to me that in MBA programs, they’re not teaching this. They’re not teaching mission statement and guiding principles. So, how do you actually align a team? How do you get a team to say, “We’re going to align around a mission here”? They don’t teach you to clarify a message unless you go to Vanderbilt University because they actually teach my framework in the Vanderbilt MBA program on how to clarify a message.

I teach an execution framework. Every company that passes about maybe $3 million, they need an execution framework. You need a series of meetings that you have at the same time on the same day, sometimes every day, sometimes once a week, and sometimes once a month, with a worksheet that you fill out and usually stand for these meetings. And at the end of that meeting, usually in the morning, everybody has complete clarity about what their five priorities are for the day, and they are kept accountable to meet those priorities.

And then, in the fourth quarter, you assess how you did, and your compensation package is actually tied to that. You install that execution framework that I talk about in this book into your company, and some companies will double in productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. And so then, it’s just a matter of doing it and ensuring then that the right things are getting executed and the focus remains where it needs to go, eh?

Don Miller
That’s where it is. I really think that the majority of succeeding in business is focus and intensity. Focusing on the right things, letting go of things that you don’t need to focus on. And then intensity, intentionally blocking out the hours to get those things done. But it’s easier said than done. You literally have to have your entire team on the same page aligned around a mission. It sounds easy but most people can’t get it done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, to that end, I’d love it if maybe you could share an inspiring story of someone who dug in and learned the stuff and saw some cool results from it.

Don Miller
Well, the most inspiring story is just our team and what we’ve done. I’ve got PhDs on my team. I’ve got people without a degree. I never ask in the interview whether you have a degree. I ask really one question, “How can you make us money? What problems can you solve? If I bring you on this team, how would you make us money?”

And you should see the looks on, especially the college grads’ faces or whatever. They’ve never been asked the question, and yet the whole point of me hiring you is to give you a paycheck that is an investment that you would give me a return on.

The very first entry in the book is about, it starts the 10 characteristics of what I call a value-driven professional. And the first characteristic is this: they see themselves as an economic product on the open market. And, Pete, that sounds probably really coarse and really harsh.

Pete Mockaitis
Dehumanizing.

Don Miller
Dehumanizing, yeah. And I would agree with that, it is dehumanizing. But in the reality, God doesn’t see you as somebody with an economic price tag on your head, your spouse doesn’t see you that way, your kids don’t see you that way, I don’t see you that way. Donald Miller doesn’t see you that way. The market, 100%, absolutely sees you that way. It’s just a fact.

If your skillset involves being able to cut up a potato, put it into a metal basket and dip it into oil for three minutes and pull it up, if that’s what you’re capable of doing, you’ve got a $15 an hour number above your head. That’s what you are worth, and that’s a terrible thing to say except when you realize that that same person is in control of what that number is.

So, if they say, “Okay. Well, I know how to deep-fry some potatoes. I’m going to learn how to unify a team around a mission statement and guiding principles so that we’re all aligned. And then I’m also going to learn a business strategy, how to keep cashflow strong, how to keep overhead light, how to keep products profitable, how to get your marketing engine going, your sales engine going, and how to look at cashflow so that we don’t run out of it. And I’m going to master that.”

You, all of a sudden, have gone from 15, to 25, to 45. And if you can do what I just said, at the end of that year, you’re capable of being a CEO with a little bit of practice, so now you’re at $150 an hour. You’re actually in control of that. So, it’s only an offensive statement to say you’re an economic product on the open market if you don’t have control of the number. And what’s amazing is most people don’t realize they have control of the number.

So, when you actually realize that, you start learning the skillsets that allow you to be a good investment. Well, how do people actually get rich? Well, the way people get rich is they’re a great investment. Our company has gone to about $20 million. We did that in five years. No venture capital, no private equity, no bank loans. We’ve gone to $20 million. How did we do that? We did that by making other people $200 million. That’s the only way you make money is you make somebody else more money.

Or, you solve somebody’s problem, or you increase the amount of time that they have. You decrease their frustration. You increase their status. Whatever it is somebody is paying you for, if you just promise yourself, “If somebody gives me 100 bucks an hour, I’m going to make them a thousand bucks an hour.” If you have that mentality, you will be wealthy.

One time an acquaintance, came up to me after a speaking he gave me, he said, “You know, you and I live in the same town. Why don’t you fly home with me?” And I said, “Well, what flight are you on?” And he said, “Well, no, I have an airplane.” The next morning, I get on this $50 million jet with this guy, and I’m asking what he does. He’s a hedge fund manager and blah, blah, blah, and I said, “Well, this is the life, man. I can’t imagine ever living like this.”

And then he said something about, “I was flying one of my clients around and they kind of like this drink and we didn’t have that drink on the plane so we had to stop and get some,” or whatever. He was just telling a story. And I realized, “Oh, he actually has this 50-million private jet because people pay him and he makes them even more money. So, now there’s a guy with some jumbo jet who’s the king of Dubai, or whatever, who actually has even more money.” And you start realizing, “That’s the key.” The key is to be a great investment so you’re giving people a strong return.

And so, when I wrote this book, what I wanted was you start at whatever you’re at, some of you listening are worth $30 an hour, some of you are worth $50 an hour, some of you are worth $12 an hour, you read the first one and you become worth about $5 more. And you read the second one and you become worth about $5 more. You read the third one you become worth about $5 more if you execute it and actually practice these skills in your professional career.

And what I wanted was you start this book being worth $15 an hour, you end it worth being $150 an hour if you actually execute the skills that you learn in the book. I wanted to make people worth more money. But the first thing you got to do, if you want to do that, is admit you’re actually an economic product. If people see themselves that way, they tend to make a ton of money on the open market.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s zoom into a few of these particular skills. Let’s say our audience are professionals. If we want to get quantitative, I mean, incomes vary wildly, but let’s just call it 75 grand a year, and maybe a few years out of their bachelor’s, so just to paint a picture, maybe half have direct reports and half do not. I know it’s a wide audience. But zero in a little bit for us in terms of what is a skill that professionals generally need and is highly valued, and what can we do to get better at it right now?

Don Miller
Well, one of the things you need to do, if you have a boss, let’s just talk to the folks who have a boss, what you want to do is you go to your boss with an idea, and you say, “I want to do this.” What you really need to do is go to your boss with a business case. And my team members know this. Don’t come to me without a business case.

And so, instead of coming to me, and saying, “Don, we really want to launch a new podcast.” Well, they would come to me and say, “Don, we want to launch a new podcast. It’s going to hit this demographic. On that podcast, we’re going to focus on these three products and only these three products. If people buy these three products, we’ll have their email address and we’ll upsell them to these other two products. If the podcast does what our last podcast did, we would anticipate that 2% of the people listening to the podcast would buy these three entry-level items and 5% of those would buy the upsells. So, we’re talking about 6.2 million. We think that that’s going to cost about a million dollars to produce so we should see a profit of about 5.2 million pre-overhead.”

You start talking like that to your boss and they’re going to promote you because almost nobody talks that way. They just go, “I think this is a good idea. Let’s throw spaghetti at the wall and see if it turns into art.” And people who understand business get a little bit tired of that. And so, that’s the sort of thing that this book teaches you to do.

If I just flip open this book and just put my finger down, so I just did it, put my finger down, there’s five pages, this is number 3 on negotiation. Here’s a skill that if you don’t have a boss, or if you do have a boss, it doesn’t matter, almost nobody has taken a course on how to negotiate a contract or negotiate a deal.

So, let me just give you one thing. The page that I turned to is that you need to understand that there’s always something “below the line.” So, you’re negotiating, it’s a package deal, there’s this bestselling author that you want to speak at your conference, they’re $50,000 to take the stage, there is something that that author wants more than money. And if you actually do a little due diligence, you’ll figure it out.

For instance, I’ve done this. I’ve told a bestselling author that I couldn’t afford to bring to one of my conferences, I said, “Look, I’ve written a lot of bestselling books. Would you want to spend about four hours together, just talking about whatever your next book is about? We can maybe outline some chapters of it or we can talk about a marketing plan. I can’t afford to pay you the $125,000 that you are to take the stage, but I would be able to give you four hours, and I think it’d be worth your time.” The person did it for $25,000.

It even gets more fun than that. My buddy runs a poetry week in San Diego, California at Point Loma University. He wanted Billy Collins to come. Now, Billy Collins is my favorite poet. I’m that geeky that I actually have a favorite poet. He’s really funny and he’s brilliant but he’s probably a hundred grand to come speak. He is like a rock star in the poetry world. He was the poet laureate. He’s a professor at NYU. He doesn’t do very many speaking engagements.

So, my buddy started Googling around on the internet because he’s not going to be able to pay $125,000 to have Billy Collins come. He found that Billy Collins is an avid golfer. So, he goes over at Torrey Pines, he can’t get on at Torrey Pines, it’s very hard, and he says, “I want to get Billy Collins to come speak at my thing. How much would it cost for me to get a round of golf to Billy Collins?” “This guy sounds like a rock star. We’d give it to him for free.” He said, “Great.” So, he calls Billy Collins, he said, “Look, I’ll give you $40,000 and a round at Torrey Pines.” And he comes and he does it, and they raised a ton of money.

There’s almost always something below the line in a negotiation. We think we’re having a financial negotiation but we’re human beings. There’s something that people want and value even more than money. And if you can find it, you can negotiate really, really great contracts. So, you go back and you tell your boss you did that, you’re going to get another promotion and another raise. When it’s time to get a raise, they’re going to give you the biggest possible raise. And why? Because you are such a good investment that, “When we give you a paycheck, we get so much more in return.”

We all do this. If you buy stocks, you buy more stocks that are making you more money, and you divest of stocks that are losing you money. And in the open market, people are like stocks. They don’t want to be but they are. And the real pros, not the amateurs, but the pros, they really like that. They actually want to be an investment because they know how to get you a return.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Thank you. Well, now, I want to hear a lot of things but let’s go with this. Now, what you’re putting forward here totally makes sense to me as a business owner, and I’m thinking about there’s an unfortunate reality in many workplaces that meritocracy, for whatever reasons, is broken or limited or slow, such that let’s say I’ve got a boss and then they do a performance review, and they say, “Wow, Pete, you are just so amazing. This initiative saved us all this money. This other product launch was so successful and profitable. You are just crushing it.” I say, “Well, thank you very much, boss. I appreciate that.” And they say, “And here is your 4% raise for your great performance this year.”

And so, I’m thinking, “Well, as compared to the value I gave you last year, it is miles beyond 4% more,” and then maybe you have the conversation, like, “Hey, it seems like I’m doing these things and I’m making this impact, it would seem appropriate to increase the compensation.” They go, “Oh, you know, Pete, you’re making some sense here, bud, but, unfortunately, with COVID or,” insert excuse, “there’s a hiring freeze or a budget freeze or a pay increase freeze.” So, there’s some kind of a policy something that’s getting in the way of the beauty of value created and compensation for that value created to flow as it should.

How do we deal with that?

Don Miller
Well, that’s a tough thing but when you have the skills to make people money, there’s just one thing you need to do. You need to actually make a business case for yourself. So, you’re not going in and asking for a raise or begging for a raise. If you’re doing that, the person that you’re talking to, the company that you work for, has the leverage. And so, what you really want is you don’t want to compete for the job. You want them to compete for you. And so, if they’re going to keep you and keep making this money, they’re going to have to give you more money.

And if they don’t, if you really are that good, everybody here is an economic product on the open market so you take your skills elsewhere and you charge what you think that you are worth. We have reviews at the end of every year and people get a bonus based on their performance. There are some performers that they’re great, we love them, we give them the most percent, that will be a 5% raise plus they get a bonus based on whether or not we hit our goals as a company. And that’s it.

There are other performers though, for instance my marketing director, we called my marketing director in four months before the end of the year, and said, “Look, we want to give you a 20% raise right now, and at the end of the year we’re going to give you your bonus which is a percentage of your salary as though you would have that 20% all year long.” And he was baffled, he loved it, and he said, “Don, thanks.” Two of my team members called me and said the same. They said, “Thank. This is so generous.”

And I said, “Listen, I hope I’m a generous guy but I want you to understand something. You are so good at making this company money, I have to compete to keep you. I know that some people can come in and get you, and I want you to know that. I want you to know you’re a rock star and if I pay you more, maybe you won’t leave.”

Now, there’s always somebody, some billionaire, who’s going to come in and say, “I’ll pay you some obscene amount of money because I don’t care about the money.” I can’t compete with that person but I can compete in other ways. You like your job, you get great time off, nobody here works really after 5:00 unless they want to. It’s a great environment so I compete in other ways besides money too.

But that’s where you want to get your boss. And let’s say your boss isn’t like that. Well, now you’ve got a resume. You’re going to write your resume completely differently, and the resume is going to be, “If you invest in me, here’s the ways that I can make you money.” And not every company needs the ways that you can make them money, but you’re going to find the ones that you can.

Andrew Grove, who ran Intel for so many years, says that, “Don’t be confused. Every single human being is a company. And you sell your services to other companies in exchange for pay.” Now, I got to tell you also this. We’ve had plenty of these conversations where somebody comes in and they say that to us, they say, “I think I’m worth this. I’ve made the company this much money.”

And in turn we say, “We think you’re worth a 5% raise. We don’t think you’re worth, as an economic investment, you’re two years out of college, you don’t know how to do this, you don’t know how to do that, we’re training you, you’re becoming more valuable but I think you have an inflated idea of the economic value you’re actually worth. If you stay here for two or three more years, I think you’ll learn a lot more. You’ll have more value on the open market.”

We had one person once who got pretty huffy about that and they were pretty upset about it, and they said, “Well, I disagree with you and we’re going to have to have further conversation.” Great. In the next conversation, we said, “Listen, we’re not letting you go, you have two months, we you to find another job. We’re not kidding. We actually think that if we’re going to pay you what you want to be paid, we can get somebody better with more experience on the open market.”

And that person said, “Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. I want to keep my job. I really like it here.” And we said, “Listen, if you come back and you turned in a two weeks’ notice, we’re going to be ticked. If you want to stay here for a couple more years, we will train you, you will get some experience that will make you worth more on the open market.” And that’s what this person decided to do and that is, indeed, what actually happened.

So, you’re going to have disagreements. Almost every employee thinks they’re worth more than their company does, and almost every company is paying somebody more than what they think the person is worth. They think they’re being generous. That tension always exists. But here’s how I want you to see yourself. Always see yourself as an NBA player and negotiating a salary to stay on the basketball team. And you also need to learn what it is that actually makes the basketball team money.

I love the example of JJ Watt, he’s a football player, of course, for the Houston Texas. This is a losing team. They won four games this year. JJ Watt is paid $100 million to play football. And when you watch him, he has negotiated, so during the game they play a certain song and he dances during the game before the snap on this one particular play. Well, why did he negotiate that? Because it gets the crowd riled up and they start chanting JJ Watt, it puts butts in seats, it sells JJ Watt jerseys, it makes the football team money. So, not only is he great as a defensive player, by the way, he’s a defensive player making $100 million.

He figured out how he can make the football team money. He also negotiated that nobody on the sidelines can wear a red baseball cap except for him. So, when he comes off the field, he takes his helmet off, he puts a red baseball cap on. You know why he does that?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then people can pick him out, like, “Oh, that’s him. That’s JJ.”

Don Miller
Exactly it, so the camera can find him. He has figured it out. Now HEB is a grocery store in the Houston, Texas area that paid him another $100 million to be their spokesperson. So, he’s saying, “Buy your eggs at HEB.” Now, what’s he doing? He figured out how to make Houston Texas money, and he figured out how to make a grocery store money, and he’s worth $200 million. That is called a value-driven professional.

Now, if the team doesn’t want to keep him, he can go to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and say, “Look, this is how much money I make at Houston Texas in jersey sales, when I show up on NFL commercials, when I agree to do at least one interview after the game. This is how much money. It’s not just about football.”

And so, as a value-driven professional, if you’re on the marketing team, you’re going to say, “Listen, I built a sales funnel that it looks like it made $4 million that didn’t exist before I got here. I also do a segment on the company’s podcast that goes on every other episode. The leads from that has turned into another $4 million, so that’s $8 million. You guys paid me $45,000 last year. I made you $8 million in value. I think I’m an $85,000 a year person. But before you say no, let me give you three more ideas that I want to implement that I think will make you another $4 million.” That’s how you negotiate.

Don’t come in and say, “Look, I show up on time, I don’t smell bad, I comb my hair, I make sure I pull my old lunch out of the fridge so it doesn’t rot. I think you owe me 5%.” Nobody is interested in that conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, let’s shift gears a smidge away from…so we had that core economic value delivery principle there. You said that your first several installments, videos and pieces of the book, are all about character. Lay it on us.

Don Miller
Well, I kind of wondered, I read these books about character and it’s talked about things like integrity, it talks about things like work ethic. Not that I don’t think that stuff isn’t important. Integrity is incredibly important. But, in my opinion, integrity is a core value of being a human being not of just being a professional. We have places for people who don’t have integrity. We call them prison.

So, you can’t work here unless you have integrity. You can’t work here unless you tell the truth. So, I started thinking, “Hey, what are the ways that real value-driven professionals, people like JJ Watt, what are the ways that they see themselves?” And, amazingly, I got to meet Barack Obama when I was on a White House taskforce. I got to spend time with Michelle Obama, I got to spend time with members of the judiciary, lawmakers, NFL coaches, professional athletes, professional musicians at the highest level. And I was looking for, “What do these people have in common?”

And the 10 core characteristics are very interesting. The first we’ve talked about at length, and that is they really do see themselves as an economic product on the open market. The second is that they see themselves as heroes not victims, so they identify as the hero in the story not the victim in the story, and that’s really critical. At no point will any of these people start feeling sorry for themselves. Heroes don’t feel sorry for themselves. They may not like their challenges but they take their challenges on. And those challenges transform the hero into a better version of themselves.

Victims suck a lot of the energy out of the room. And there are actual real victims in the world. I don’t mean to victim-shame anybody but most of us see ourselves as victims when we’re in fact not. My friend Henry Cloud defines victims as somebody who has no way out. And most of the time in my life where I’ve seen myself as a victim, I actually had plenty of ways out. I was just too discouraged to actually take them. So, we have to make that transformation from victim mindset to a hero mindset.

The third is they know how to deescalate drama. Drama in the workplace costs people a lot of money. And the reason it cost people a lot of money is because it sucks all the energy into the dramatic employee, and it’s that energy they can’t use to make a product or serve a customer. So, people who know how to deescalate drama, they’re actually worth a lot more.

Another one is that they accept feedback as a gift. We just interviewed Mathew McConaughey the other day. He loves criticism. He loves it because it makes him a better actor. Number five is they know the right way to engage conflict. The more you rise as a leader, the more conflict you have to deal with. In fact, the more power you actually have in a company, the more time you spend only dealing with problems. And so, if you understand how to engage conflict and resolve conflict and the ways to do that, you are going to rise because people hire you to solve problems. And the more problems you can solve, the more money they pay you, and the more promotions you get.

Another one, day six, this was on tough for me because I felt it a lot. It was they long to be trusted and respected more than they want to be liked. And leaders who want to be liked, or people and companies who want to be liked, they compromise, they don’t tell the truth. But people who want to be trusted and respected, they tell the truth, they set very clear expectations, and they give people encouragement when they hit those expectations. A lot of people don’t like their coach but they trust and respect that coach to make them a better player. And, in my opinion, that’s an even stronger bond.

Day seven is they have a bias toward action. I’m just going to say it really bluntly, I’ve met a lot of really dumb people who are not very intelligent who are billionaires. And the difference is they take action when other people are still thinking about it. So, a bias towards action is a fantastic competitive advantage.

Day eight is they do not choose to be confused. And this is something my business coach taught me years ago. I was thinking about a problem employee, and I was going over my problems with him and how I wanted to deal with it. And my coach said to me, he said, “Don, you are choosing to be confused.” I said, “What do you mean choosing to be confused?” He said, “Step outside yourself and look at the situation and clearly articulate what you need to do.” And, immediately, I said, “I need to fire him.” He said, “Don, you knew it the whole time. You were choosing to be confused because there’s something you don’t want to do. It’s obvious what you need to do. Stop choosing to be confused.” Isn’t that fantastic?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’m going to sit with that. Thank you.

Don Miller
I’ll tell you what, I choose to be very confused about whether a cup of ice cream is good before dinner. I mean, before breakfast. I mean, before going to bed. I choose to be confused about that all the time. The truth is it’s not, right?

So, day nine is be relentlessly optimistic. People who are relentlessly optimistic, they tend to try harder things and not give up when the challenge is greater than they expected. So, optimism actually means you fail more than the average person because you try harder things, but you get so delusional about the fact that you can do it that you keep trying and trying and trying, and you accomplish more than people who don’t try.

Day ten is from Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford. And she says to us to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. And that is believe that you are a human being, always changing, transforming and getting better rather than somebody who is fixed. So, never say anything like, “I’m bad at math.” Really, the way you want to word that is, “I’ve not chosen to study math enough to get very good at it. But, of course, I’m capable of being good at math. I just haven’t chosen to study math.” That’s a fixed mindset, “I’m bad at math,” versus a growth mindset that says, “I’m perfectly capable of being great at math. I just haven’t chosen to study that very much.”

When somebody sees themselves through the growth lens, they tend to escalate in their skillsets much, much quicker than those who feel stuck like they were born bad at math. And she wrote a whole book on that, and it’s fascinating. It’s a fascinating study. In fact, I brought in a teacher for an entire day for my company just to teach everybody in the company a growth mindset. And we’d constantly say, “We don’t know how to do this but let’s all have a growth mindset.” And it’s led to an enormous success for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, Don, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Don Miller
There was a guy, well, two guys, who delivered a bed to our house today. And they were in their early 20s, one of them had served in the military. As we talked to each other and I was helping with the bed, and we started telling each other stories and those kinds of things.

I said, “Hey, before you leave, can I just give you a copy of this book Business Made Simple?” And I said, “Listen, I don’t know your story about college, but I didn’t go to college. What I discovered though was a way of making money and being a value-driven professional that allowed me to go around the college system. And I wrote it all down in this book. In 60 days, you can be, whether you went to college or not, so much more valuable than almost anybody around you if you just understand and apply these principles.”

And they looked at me, and said, “Dude, this is amazing because we’ve just been approached by somebody who wants us to start a business with them by buying a warehouse and we would be delivery people and so on and so on.” I said, “That’s a great opportunity. Read this book. Take that opportunity. But let me tell you something. Learn that for about three or four years and then go buy your own warehouse because you need to own the business. That’s the key. And this book will teach you how to run that business, run your friend’s business, and run your own business someday.”

And I almost got choked up with tears in my eyes walking away because that was me. My first job was Popeyes Fried Chicken, my second job was delivering Chinese food, my third job was Kmart, my fourth job was Radio Shack. This is talking about somebody without a degree. And then somebody gave me a shot at a publishing company and I end up running that company and starting my own company.

If somebody would’ve handed me at Popeyes Fried Chicken, this book, I think it might’ve ignited my entrepreneurial imagination and maybe saved me about 15 years of running around not advancing in my career. It really is the hidden staircase. We’re all trying to climb the ladder but there’s a hidden staircase, and I think I’ve written it down in this book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Don Miller
It’s from Victor Frankl. Are you familiar with Victor Frankl?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Don Miller
He saved my life many years ago. About 12 years ago, I read Man’s Search for Meaning, and he saved my life. I’ve been working on a new project that won’t be out till later this year called “Hero on a Mission,” and my brain is stuck in that right now.

But what I love about Viktor Frankl is, and Sigmund Freud at the time Frankl was alive, was going around saying, “The dominant desire of men is to pursue pleasure.” And about the same time, Alfred Adler was going around, more or less interpreting Nietzsche, saying, “The dominant pursuit of men is the pursuit of power.” And Viktor Frankl came along and said, “In my opinion, you’re both wrong. I think the dominant pursuit of men is the pursuit of meaning. Women and men want to experience a deep sense of meaning. And when they can’t find meaning, they numb themselves with power and pleasure.” And I just thought, “That explains our culture.” We don’t have meaning and so we eat ice cream and watch Netflix and entertain ourselves and distract ourselves with social media because we don’t have meaning.

But what I love about Viktor Frankl is he actually gave us a prescription to experience meaning, and it’s existential. You don’t find it in a philosophy book. In fact, he says you can’t find meaning in a book. What you can find is a recipe that if you enact that recipe, that formula, it will give you meaning. And the first was find a product or a project that you can build, something that demands action, that takes your time. Find a community of people who care about you or also spend time in nature. In other words, become involved in something outside yourself, that attracts you and brings you out of yourself and into a reality that you’re not the only person on the planet.

And then the third was find a redemptive perspective for your suffering. And what he meant by that is no matter what sort of painful thing you go through, find something in that pain that’s actually benefiting you. So, maybe it’s humbling you, or maybe it’s making you more empathetic, or maybe it’s building muscle, emotional muscle or physical muscle, whatever it is. And if you do those three things, you’ll experience a deep sense of meaning.

And, lo and behold, about 12 years ago I read that book and started applying what he called logotherapy, a therapy of meaning to my life, and, truly, I have not woken up a single day without experiencing a deep sense of meaning. I’ve woken up really sad, I’ve woken up really tired, I’ve woken up really angry or frustrated, but never ever without a deep sense of meaning. And I am so grateful for his book. It’s been the most eye-opening helpful discovery in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Don Miller
I actually created my own day planner, and you can get it for free. It’s at HeroOnAMission.com. And I fill up this planner every day and it helps me organize my mind and my time. It’s actually a reflective meditative exercise. I fill it every morning. And that has been the key to my productivity.

Another thing that I found unbelievably helpful was studying story and story structure. My favorite book on story structure, now it’s a 600-page book, typeface smaller than your Bible, is Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots. But, really, when you study story, you’re studying life, you’re studying what matters in life, and you’re asking yourself all sorts of questions about what kind of story, not what I want to write but what I want to actually live. And with Viktor Frankl, the study and the understanding of story structure has been a fantastic tool that helped me experience more meaning.

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

Don Miller
If you go to BusinessMadeSimple.com, you can read all about what we’re up to. And if you’re interested, go on Amazon and buy Business Made Simple. We’re not sure what they’re charging for it now but it should be about 20 bucks. You get the 60 videos, but if you forward your receipt from Amazon to this address, book@businessmadesimple.com, I’ll send you a free mini course that I created called Zero to Ten. And it’s five videos on how I took my company from zero to 10 million. It’s not as hard as you might think it is to do that but it’s really, really messy. And so, I hope you kind of make your way through the mess in that course. So, you just forward your receipt to book@businessmadesimple.com you get that free mini course.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their job?

Don Miller
There are four characters in a story normally. Four kinds of characters: hero, victim, villain, and guide. The hero wants something and overcomes challenges; the victim is helpless and exists in the story only to make the hero look good and the villain look bad, the victim doesn’t play any other part in the story; the villain is seeking vengeance; and the guide is the wise sage helping the hero win.

Now, here’s the challenge. Every day, those four characters exist in story because those four characters exist in you, and all four exist at the exact same time. On any given day, you can catch me playing the hero, the victim, the villain, or the guide. I am convinced that the more we identify as the hero or the guide, the better our life goes. And the more we identify as the victim or villain, the worse our life goes. So, if you want to control how your story ends up, spend more time being the hero, more time being the guide, less time being the victim, and less time being the villain, and things are going to go okay. So, the challenge is notice which character you are playing from hour to hour throughout the day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Don, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in business that you’re making simple, and life, and keep on rocking.

Don Miller
Well, thanks so much for the time. It really is an honor.