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Finding Fit

401: Finding, Creating, and Maintaining a Great Work Culture with Brian Fielkow

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CEO Brian Fielkow walks through creating and maintaining a good work culture then reveals how prospective employees can find out if they fit a new workplace’s culture.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why customers pay for culture
  2. Brian’s definition of a healthy work culture
  3. How to discover if you are a cultural fit at the interview stage

About Brian

Brian Fielkow, J.D., is the CEO of Jetco Delivery, a multimillion-dollar Houston-based trucking and logistics company with 200+ employees that was named a “Top Workplace” by the Houston Chronicle, highlighted on the 2015 Inc. 5000 list, and given the Gold Safety Award by the DOW Chemical Company. Brian is also the author of “Driving to Perfection: Achieving Business Excellence by Creating a Vibrant Culture.”

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Brian Fielkow Interview Transcript

Brian Fielkow
She’s well known in Hawaii and she’s starting to make a good name on the mainland. But the song, Island Inside Me, I wrote for my wife for our anniversary.

I just have these lyrics going around in my head, but I’m not a songwriter, I can’t sing, I’m not a musician. I connected with Anuhea. We put this song together sort of as an anniversary gift. It took off. It was a pretty cool experience. I don’t think I’ll have that experience again, but to have that song. Every once in a while I’ll hear it on Sirius-type stations. It’s kind of neat.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, could you sing perhaps the refrain or the chorus or a segment for us?

Brian Fielkow
Oh, you don’t want me to sing anything, but I know she’s got it posted. I know it’s available. It’s again, Island Inside Me, but if I sang it, I think we’d lose all of our listeners right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, fair enough. We’ll play it safe this time.

Brian Fielkow
Play it safe, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
You have a deep expertise when it comes to culture matters. You have some real hands-on experience instead of only doing research and writing books. Maybe could you orient us a little bit to where you’ve come from and why culture has become an issue that really matters to you so much?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, I have kind of an interesting career. It’s not one that you could have ever planned coming out of school. I began my career practicing corporate law in Milwaukee. Maybe six or seven years in, I went to go work for my favorite client. They were in the recycling business. It was a wonderful opportunity.

We built that business while I was there for a good six – seven years. We sold it to Waste Management. I worked at Waste for a couple years. Then I bought my current company about 13 – 14 years ago, Trucking and Logistics. I’ve seen large Fortune 500 companies, I’ve seen entrepreneurial companies, everything in between.

It was interesting when I got into recycling coming out of the law business, I noticed that what we were selling were bales of cardboard. A bale of cardboard is a bale of cardboard, but we were commanding a premium. It took me a while to figure out why would anybody pay us more for what’s in the truest sense of the word a commodity.

It didn’t take me long to realize that other people would promise an order of a thousand tons and they’d ship 700. There was so much gamesmanship in the business, but we did what we said. People were paying us a premium for peace of mind. They weren’t really buying our cardboard; they were buying our peace of mind. That was a lesson I got very early on post law.

It kind of woke me up to the fact that every one of our businesses with rare exception to some degree is commoditized. I got really interested in de-commoditizing what we do, not having it to compete as much on price. Yes, the price is important, but if we can get to a situation where a customer appreciates our value proposition more than just the core product or service you’re offering, you can command a higher price.

Over the years I learned that what people are really paying for is your culture, kind of how you do things, what makes you different, that secret ingredient that nobody else can steal.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Your culture is what they’re paying for. It’s how you do things differently, your secret sauce. Is that how you define culture in those ways or do you have a particular definition that you run with?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, let me give you how I define it. There are books and books on culture and the theory behind it. I’m not a fan of the theory because we’re practitioners and we need to know now. I’m going to keep it real simple and say that in simplest terms, you’ve got the beginning of a healthy culture when you’ve got the right people and the right processes working in harmony.

In a healthy culture, you’ve got the convergence of people and process, that’s what yields consistent and hopefully excellent results for the customer. You could have the right people and no process and every day is a new day. You could have the right process and the wrong people and forget about that. I’ve learned over the years that it’s getting the right people, the right process working in harmony.

It’s also rooting your company in a well-defined set of values. We have so many arrows coming at us in the business world, so many different priorities that sometimes we forget that there’s this adhesive that binds us together.

I can’t tell any business what their values should be, but once you’ve established your values, you’ve got to live by them. You don’t compromise your values. That’s something that your team needs to understand, your customers understand. It’s the adhesive that binds your company together through good times and bad, where priorities, on the other hand, they change by the day. We have customer issues. We’ve got service issues.

But those priorities never, ever compromise our core values, who we are and what’s important to us and what’s important to our team. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got to walk the walk. You’ve got to live and breathe your values. Whether you’re in the C-suite, whether it’s your first day on the job, you’ve got to agree that these are the rules that we’re going to play by.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting you said you cannot tell another company what their values should be. I guess I’m imagining there are some that would generally be a recipe for good things and some that would be a recipe for bad things and a whole lot that it’s sort of – it’s a matter of finding the right fit in terms of the people and the processes and the industry and kind of what is your focus as a business.

Could you give us an example of some values that are unique because I think a lot of organizations will say, hey, integrity of course is a big value. I think sometimes they live it and walk the talk and sometimes they don’t, but it doesn’t really seem so distinctive when you hear that integrity is a value.

But it seems like in your practice, integrity is defined as doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it really was a differentiator there. Could you give us some examples of different values and how they come to life?

Brian Fielkow
Sure. Let’s talk about integrity for a minute because you’re right. That can sound over used. What company in the world doesn’t say integrity is a core value?

But now look around and if you watch football as much as I do, you’ve seen the Wells Fargo ads, established in 1860-something, reestablished in 2018. Why? Because they had integrity issues that really hurt their reputation, opening up fictitious accounts. It was a pretty big deal. Wells Fargo had to do work to repair its brand because of integrity.

It’s something you take for granted, but then you realize that if you let it slip and don’t focus on it, it could slip intentionally or unintentionally. Something even as simple and common place as integrity, if you as the leader aren’t living it and are kind of looking the other way, one lie will breed a thousand lies.

If I’ve got a problem with a customer, I’m not going to make something up. I’m going to tell the customer what happened and how we’re going to fix it. Even though the customer may be upset, hopefully over time, the customer will respect me more because people can smell a lie a mile away.

If my team sees me behaving in that manner, they’re going to follow my lead. On the other hand, if my team sees me acting with integrity, they’re going to follow my lead. Especially as we’re starting to work with younger and younger employees, people just don’t want to work in a company where the values are adrift. Integrity.

Another great example is respect. Again, people use respect too loosely, in my opinion. When I say respect, what I’m talking about is treating people like human beings first and employees second. That’s the ultimate respect. The ultimate form of disrespect is anonymity, “Hey, you’re number 100. Go do your job. Punch in, punch out,” not knowing a thing about that employee personally.

As my company is growing, I can’t know a thing about all my employees but my managers better. There needs to be something in the culture that makes sure that my managers know their employees like I know my direct reports so that everyone is accounted for and that the ultimate form of respect, like I said, is making sure that people’s overall human needs are met and that nobody, no matter if it’s their first day on the job, feels like all they’re doing is punching a clock and if they didn’t show up, it wouldn’t matter. That’s just a horrible situation to be in.

Respect is a value. Those are some of the things that we do that promote respect regardless of what it is you do because you’re an important member of the team regardless.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, okay. I would love to dig in a little bit in terms of thinking about values when it comes to finding fit with regard to career planning. How do you think about that game—I’d say both in terms of zeroing in on what values matter to you and then assessing whether a company really has it? Because I think a number of cultural pieces in terms of how things are done in a given organization really can vary and vary fine and suit different people differently.

For example, I think that some folks would say, “Oh yeah, we’re all about collaboration and so we’ve got an open office floor plan and we’ve got bays with ten employees in each of them, so they’re always kind of seeing and interacting with folks. We’re always on Slack and doing that.” Then some folks would say, “That would drive me insane. I need my quiet time to really focus and go deep in creating stuff.”

That would be sort of a natural mismatch when it comes to sort of how you prefer to do your thing and how the organization is doing their thing. How do you think about navigating this whole fit and research game?

Brian Fielkow
Such a great question because whenever I see forced fun, I run away. I go in the opposite direction. For me, having a slide in the middle of the office and having all those amenities, that’s all well and good, but that’s not culture. People mistake that kind of stuff for culture. Culture is not campfire fun and games stuff. This is a hardcore business proposition.

If kind of the slide in the office fits your culture and it’s in the context of an overall healthy culture, it’s fine. But if you’re using those bells and whistles to get employees in and then once they come in, they realize you’re in a toxic environment, that doesn’t work.

To me, there’s some subjectivity to it. There’s definitely a component of individual taste. Maybe I prefer a company that’s more formal. Or maybe I prefer a company that’s more casual. Maybe having a social life with my coworkers is important. Maybe I don’t want it at all. Maybe the company is extremely hierarchical, has a well-defined org chart. Maybe the company is more loosely defined.

All that’s okay and none of that is indicative of whether the company has a healthy culture or a poor culture. It’s how the company chooses to operate. It’s its own personality. That’s where you’ve got to find the fit. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer there.

But when you want to talk about how do I find the right culture, regardless of whether it’s hierarchical or loose, whether we’re wearing suits or whether we’re wearing shorts, that’s the key is to dig beyond the surface, dig beyond the slide. It’s not one-size fits all.

I think the best advice I could give somebody is when you’re doing an interview, you definitely – you’re going to speak with the hiring manager. You might speak with human resources. But the real people you want to talk to are prospective peers, prospective coworkers.

We do that with pretty much all of our job interviews. Again, it doesn’t matter the level that we’re hiring for. We want to be sure that peers can talk unscripted and what it’s really like to work here. We want to make full disclosure. We want to make full disclosure about our company. We’re proud of it, but we know that just like any other company, we’re not a fit for everybody.  We’d rather know that before we make a hiring decision or before you would agree to join our company.

There’s nothing like a peer-to-peer interview where you can ask questions. “What’s it really like to work here?” The company’s recruiting brochure says X, Y, Z, but six months later is that really what’s happening? Do they have a good-looking recruiting brochure or are they really delivering the goods?

The absolutely best advice I can give is do your homework on the company. Understand what the company is all about. Understand its culture. But peer-to-peer man, that’s really where you’re going to learn what it’s like to work there.

By the way, if that peer-to-peer interview goes well, now you’re new coworkers, they know you before you start. They’ve got a vested interest in integration. They’ve got a vested interest in bringing you in and helping you succeed.

If they say to the hiring manager, “Wow, thumbs up. Let’s bring this person in,” that opens the door and creates a pathway for success in a way that just a traditional interview and “By the way everybody, here’s your new coworker who you’ve never met,” that doesn’t work quite as well.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious if that organization – if you’re interviewing an organization and they don’t have the wisdom to … process, do you have any pro tips in terms of how you’d go about proactively having those conversations and some of the key things you’d want to say when you’re in the midst of them to learn what you really need to learn?

Let’s say that I’m interviewing at an organization. They did not give me the benefit of engaging in these conversations peer-to-peer, so it’s a little bit more on me to be proactive in terms of finding these people, having these conversations. How shall I find them and engage them and what should we say when we’re talking?

Brian Fielkow
Well, a lot of companies may not offer the ability to interview a peer. First thing is you just ask. Say, “Hey, could I interview somebody in the department that I’m – can I meet with somebody in the department that I’m interviewing to work in?” A lot of times the companies may say yes, but if they say “No, that’s not our practice. We don’t do that,” okay, let’s respect that.

But I would still ask the hiring manager questions like “What are your company’s values? Give me a feeling for when those values were challenged. How did the company respond?” Just like they’re going to ask you those questions. They’re going to ask you, “Tell me a particularly difficult problem or difficult situation. How did you address it?” You better be prepared to answer that. Well, I think it’s a fair question for employers too is, “Tell me your story.”

If you look at an interview as a two-way street, not just the hiring manager interviewing you, look at it as a conversation. You’ll be able to develop the feel just almost organically in a conversation. If it’s that tight and that rigid and you don’t have that opportunity, the company is telling you something about its personality.

I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying that’s probably not a place I’d want to work. That’s not kind of how we bring employees in. I want an open door, full disclosure. But if companies don’t do that, with social media you can still network and find people who work there and talk to them informally or former employees, talk to them. But you can also have that same conversation with your hiring manager.

I love it when people come in, they’ve done their homework on the company and they challenge me with questions. That tells me that I’m dealing with somebody exceptional, who understands that the interview is a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that point on social media. LinkedIn is so cool with all the filters that you can dig in and search for folks that way.

Brian Fielkow
People used to call LinkedIn the boring version of Facebook or Instagram, but LinkedIn is the encyclopedia for how to network. I use it all the time. It’s such a valuable tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I really love that question you asked in terms of “Tell me about a time a value was challenged,” because I think a lot of times you’re probably going to get total blank stare response, like “Uh, these are just the words we repeat. I can’t think of any real experiences to share with you right now.” That tells you something right there.

But now you’ve got me curious, Brian can you tell me about a time in your company that you had a core value that got challenged and how did you live it out?

Brian Fielkow
Sure. In 2015 – ’16, we’re in trucking and logistics in Houston. That was a rough time. The energy markets collapsed and business was really challenged. We had to make some very difficult decisions.

In doing so, it wasn’t like memos from the C-suite; we brought our employees into the process. When we had to make the company smaller and downsize, we met with our employees. We treated them with respect. We made sure that everybody knew what we were doing, why we were doing.

What it did is it created sort of a foxhole mentality that we’re not working around our employees. We’ve not sugar coating like, “Oh, everything’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” We brought them in and we fought the war together because we were so transparent and open with them. You’ve got to be prepared to share good news and bad news.

In doing that, for example, safety in our company is a core value. We don’t compromise it. Well, no matter how rough business got, no maintenance got deferred. Every single vehicle was maintained regardless of the company’s financial performance.

I’ve seen other organizations where “Oh, business is bad. Let’s figure out where to cut. Well, we can cut maintenance.” No, if safety is a core value, you don’t cut, you don’t defer maintenance. You keep running your business.

I can use that time when this company was really challenged and really stressed by a rough economy. People in other businesses were losing their jobs left and right in Houston during that time and we just took a very contrarian approach that we’re taking our employees with us. Even though we couldn’t take everybody with us, and we did have to let people go. It was done, like I said, with dignity, with respect and then with complete transparency to the rest of the team.

That’s created kind of I think an unparalleled level of camaraderie as the company has rebounded, recovered, and grown so well in the past couple years.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, could you share some other perspectives when it comes to zeroing in on determining if a culture is a fit for you?

Do you have some extra perspectives and tips when it comes to determining if an opportunity has a good cultural fit for you?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, I think that you’ve got to be careful not to conform yourself to become somebody that you’re not. Don’t mold yourself to a culture that doesn’t fit. You’ve got to understand what fits.

In our situation, in a healthy culture, you’ve got to have employees who are technically excellent and who are in line with the company’s values. You get yourself in a lot of trouble when you look the other way.

I’ve got a technically excellent employee that’s walking all over everybody else, just a horrible team player. Well, I have to either coach that employee back in to working within our values or they can’t be part of the team no matter how technically good they are.

A lot of times we look the other way when it comes to technically good people even if they’re destroying the morale of the company. As an employer, you’ve got to stand up to that and be sure that you’ve got people who are value aligned and who know what they’re doing.

Well, similarly, for the employees, you can’t really fake it. I’m assuming you got the job because technically you met the criteria, but in a healthy culture, I hope that you’re yourself, that you don’t force anything. In a healthy culture you’ll be challenged.

Hopefully that culture will make you a better employee and a better person and hopefully you’ll do the same. You’ll make the company a better company and you’ll improve your coworkers. But if it doesn’t fit, you’ve got to know it.

I’ve seen too many times where people jump at the money. They jump at the money. “Oh, somebody wants me, I’m going to accept the job,” without asking these questions of “Am I going to be happy?” You may make money and you’ll be miserable. Life is too short.

That’s why interviewing for culture and being aware of culture is just so critically important because we’ve all had maybe in our careers, the Sunday night blues, kind of that horrible feeling that Monday is coming and I’ve got to a place that I really don’t want to go. I’ve had that in my career.

Because I’ve had that in my career and I understand it so well, part of my job is to make sure that we don’t have the Sunday night blues, that people are excited to come to work because they’re treated right, because it’s a place that they know they fit in. But if you don’t fit in the place and it’s not right for you, you’ve got to know when to get off the bus too.

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

Brian Fielkow
I like to always say that at the foundation of the culture is what I call the three T’s: treatment, transparency, and trust. If you’ve got that and if you work at a company – look I’m in the trucking business. I’ve got a lot of people who told me, “Well, geez, I never thought in my life I would get into the trucking business. How did you as a corporate lawyer decide to do it?”

First of all, I love the industry, but it’s an industry that a lot of people might not necessarily just automatically gravitate to. But it almost doesn’t matter what you do as long as you love the job, you love the people. I think treatment, transparency and trust, whether you’re in a medical office, trucking business, law office, doesn’t matter.

Treatment, like I said before, you’re a human being first, an employee second. The ultimate form of poor treatment is anonymity.

Transparency, is just making sure your team is engaged. The best way to engage your team is to explain the why. If you give me a memo and you say, “Brian, just do it,” my personality is going to be to rebel. I’m not going to do it because you told me to do it. But if you say, “Brian, look here’s why we’re doing it. Here’s the why. It’s not a democracy. I’m not asking for your vote. But here’s the why,” I’ll be a lot more inclined to participate. I’ll be a lot more inclined to support. Just make sure you take time to explain the why.

As an employee, if you don’t know why, ask why. If somebody says, “Well, never mind. It’s none of your business, never mind,” that’s a little tip, isn’t it? But the key to an engaged workforce is for everybody to know their mission, know the company’s mission, know their role. Why?

Then finally trust. If there’s no trust, let’s forget about all this. In a company where trust is lacking, where people say one thing and do another, you’re operating on quicksand. You’re never going to have employee satisfaction where there’s a lack of trust among coworkers, lack of trust where leadership doesn’t trust the employees, employees don’t trust leadership.

Treatment, transparency, and trust are the three critical elements that I would look for in any business. I don’t care what the business does, as a sign of a healthy culture.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Brian Fielkow
The problem with my favorite quote is it’s too long, but I’m going to just read a little bit of it. It’s Teddy Roosevelt’s quote that we’re all here in the game and there’s people on the sidelines. They’re always going to be throwing stones at you.

It says, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I love that quote. I just love it because you’ve got people throwing stones at you your whole life. Just forget about those people and go out there and be your best.

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

Brian Fielkow
I’d like to if possible move to a couple books that I’d like to kind of recommend.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Brian Fielkow
My favorite book, if you took all my books away, would be The Advantage by Pat Lencioni. I think that’s the one book that everybody needs to read in college, coming out of college. I go back to that book all the time. It really lays out the basis for healthy organization and your role in the healthy organization. Really, I like anything that Lencioni writes, but The Advantage is my favorite.

Another book that just came out last year that I’m really into is called The Motivation Myth. Because I’m not terribly into – as you probably can guess by now – I’m not into a lot of the motivational, feel-good speakers and those kinds of books.

What The Motivation Myth does is it takes the concept and turns it on its head and says it’s not like you have to have the motivation then you do the job, then you’re successful. The motivation comes from the journey itself.

The book argues that it’s those small steps. It’s the victories. It’s getting knocked down, getting back up. The motivation comes from those incremental successes. The more you have, the harder you work, the more motivation you have. Motivation isn’t like a prerequisite. Instead, motivation is one of the things that comes from doing something you love.

The book also argues that quit trying to be like some of the celebrity CEOs. They did what worked for them. You’ve got to figure out what works for you. Spend less time emulating and spend more time figuring out what your own formula is. I just love that as opposed to just, “Hey, do what I say. Follow my advice and you’ll be successful.” I just don’t buy that. I buy, you figure out your own formula and that’s the key to success.

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

Brian Fielkow
Trying to maintain a semblance of work/life balance. I’m not by any stretch nine to five, but I listen to my body rhythm. I listen to how I work. I’m up at crazy hours of the morning because that’s when I work the best, but unless something is really important, you’re not going to find me here – later in the day, you’re not going to find me here necessarily on a Friday afternoon.

What I’ve learned over the years is that we’ve all kind of grew up in this eight to five world or seven to five or whatever it is, but hopefully as technology evolves and as employers become more and more progressive – this isn’t true for every job obviously. If you’re a doctor or a nurse, you’ve got to be with your patients. But for a lot of jobs, the more you can listen to your body clock and know when you’re productive and kind of know when you’ve got that momentum, the more effective you’ll be.

I could do something in a half hour that would take me five hours if I picked the wrong time and the rhythm isn’t there. Listening to your body, kind of knowing how you work. Some people, as you know, are night owls. Some people, again, like me, are up before the sun. But being able to know that and capture it, I think, is the secret to optimum production and success.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your employees and folks who are reading your stuff?

Brian Fielkow
When I’m talking to audiences, I do a lot of keynoting, there’s a couple things. First of all, take your frontlines with you. I use that all the time and it resonates. I don’t like doing keynotes and just kind of closing and leaving. I like to do keynotes and then saying, “All right, what are the takeaways? We’re not here to talk about theory. What are the things that you’ll implement the minute you get back to the office?”

A lot of my keynotes, a lot of my presentation revolves around frontline engagement because I think that as a country, we’ve broken our contract with our frontlines. The more we engage our frontlines, the better. Take your frontlines with you. Bring them in.

In my company our drivers are – we have an elected driver committee that’s part of how we run the company. We’ve got our drivers in management and operational decisions. Take your frontlines with you is very – people use that a lot.

The three T’s. If imitation is the ultimate form of flattery, I’ve heard other speakers use the three T’s, but I think I may have invented that one.

Then there’s 20/60/20, which people quote a lot. This is a story when I was at Waste Management. I got to Waste Management at a time when there was a CEO, a brilliant CEO, Maury Myers, was brought in to turn the company around.

He brought his management team into the room. It was a large room. He had a large team. And was kind of rumored to say this, something like this, “20% of you know where we’re going and you’re with me. You know that we’ve got to make changes. I appreciate that. 60% of you, you’re scared. The ship is changing drastically its course. I’m going to work 24/7 to win you over.

The remaining 20% of you have made up your mind. You don’t like me and you don’t like the direction that we’re going. Here’s the commitment I’m going to make to you. This will be the smoothest transition you’ve ever had out of a company, but make no mistake, you’re out.”

20/60/20 means don’t find yourself in that bottom 20. Figure out how to continue to rise in your company. You’ve either got to align with the company’s direction and values or leave. From an employer’s standpoint, you’re not there to bat a thousand, simply not. Part of your job is to weed out the people who are kind of a drain on your culture, a drain on your performance.

I’ll tell you people in my company will use 20/60/20 a lot. We all know what they mean. The three T’s, 20/60/20, take your frontlines with you really are essential things that I talk about not just when I keynote, but when I run my own company.

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

Brian Fielkow
I would point them at my website, which is BrianFielkow, so B-R-I-A-N-F-I-E-L-K-O-W. com. They can also email me, just Brian—B-R-I-A-N @BrianFielkow.com. I’m easy to get in touch with and glad to kind of continue this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, Brian, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you all the best in making your culture all the more vibrant and excellent and business growth and all that you’re up to.

Brian Fielkow
Thank you so much for the time. I really enjoyed this conversation.

392: Getting Your Dream Job by Illustrating Your Value with Austin Belcak

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Austin Belcak explains how deep research, cold emailing, and solving one of your dream company’s problems upfront accelerates job hunting–while building your skills.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two common themes to successful job searches
  2. How to do cold outreach that gets responses
  3. Two ways to effectively illustrate your value

About Austin

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he teaches people how to land jobs they love without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online.

Austin’s created a community of over 30,000 job seekers who have leveraged his strategies to land jobs at places like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Austin Belcak Interview Transcript

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

Austin Belcak
Pete, I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. You talk a lot about the career hunt and how it’s done better, but you’ve got a pretty dramatic story yourself of coming from a pretty miserable place it sounds like in your career to a much better one. Could you tell us the tale?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, absolutely. Just to give some people context around where we’re at now before we rewind. I work full time at Microsoft. I work in sales there on the advertising side of our business in New York City.

But on the side of that full time job, I run a site called CultivatedCulture.com, where I basically teach people to leverage some unconventional strategies to land jobs they love without traditional experience, without prior connections, and without applying online.

I started that about three years ago and since then we’ve grown the community to – there’s about 12,000 people in it now. About 30,000 people have come through the doors total. Many of them have gone on to land jobs at places like Google and Microsoft and Facebook, Apple, Amazon and many, many other industries as well. That’s basically where I am now, but to your point, it has not always been that way.

If we rewind the clock back to high school for me, which is now more years ago than I’d like to admit, I was dead set on being a doctor. I had taken all these classes in high school and biology really resonated with me and chemistry did as well. I thought this would be cool and doctors make a lot of money. They’re well regarded in society. Mom and dad would be happy.

I set my sights on that and I kind of tailored my whole strategy around getting into a college with a good premed track. I sort of made that happen. I ended up at Wake Forest University, which given the grades that I had and their programs, that was a good fit for me.

But I had gone to boarding school for high school and boarding school was awesome. It was a great experience, but it was a bit sheltered in the fact that while we had some freedoms on campus, there wasn’t that same level of exposure that you may get at a regular day high school where you have to drive there and you can go to people’s houses on the weekends and things like that.

I got to Wake Forest and the social scene was I guess we could say much more robust than it was in boarding school.

Pete Mockaitis
You talk about a robust social scene makes me imagine you doing keg stands. I don’t know if that’s what you mean by that, but-

Austin Belcak
That’s exactly what I mean by that, Pete. That’s exactly what happened. The first night literally we moved into the dorms and the first night I remember walking out with my new roommate and a couple of guys we met that day.

This car pulls up in front of us and they’re like, “Hey, you want to go to a party?” Alarm bells going off in your head and your mom’s like, “Austin, don’t talk to strangers. Don’t get into weird cars.” We’re like, “No, that’s fine.” Then we look behind him and there’s just this whole line of cars.

The next guy pulls up and says, “You want to go to a party?” We’re like, “Is this a thing?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, this is what happens.” Basically these cars pull up, you hop in one and they take you to a party. That was kind of the beginning of the end of my medical career as far as being a doctor goes.

Pete Mockaitis
Because you were just partying so much, you weren’t focusing on the grades or what happened exactly at this party?

Austin Belcak
Pretty much. All these freedoms that you never had at home are suddenly available.

That was way more interesting to me than class was, so I immediately failed chemistry my first semester. Then I went ahead and failed French the next semester. I rounded out my freshman year with a 1.99 GPA, which is not great. I don’t know too many med schools these days that are accepting kids with that sort of GPA. My dreams were kind of shattered.

I wasn’t too upset about it, but I kind of had this choice, I could continue to explore and try and find a new passion or I could continue enjoying this new social scene that was exciting and fun. I decided to do that. Basically, that carried me through. I kept my biology major.

That carried me through to junior year when my roommate’s dad, who is an orthopedic surgeon, he kind of plopped an internship in my lap with a medical device sales company. They were a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson.

I worked there during the summer. They gave me a job offer at the end of the summer. They said, “It’s yours if you want it.” I thought that was awesome because that meant that I could totally slack off senior year and I had my job and I was good to go.

That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t apply anywhere else. I didn’t interview anywhere else. Then I graduated from college and I kind of got slapped in the face.

I hadn’t taken into account anything like cost of living, racked up about 10,000 bucks for the credit card debt in the first three months out of college literally just trying to make ends meet.

Then my boss was just terrible.
Then finally the job itself, I was getting up some days at 2:30 – 3 in the morning to drive two and a half hours to get to the hospital by 6 AM. That really was not super fun.

One day my boss told me in a very condescending fashion, “Maybe you should think about another career.” I actually said, “That’s pretty good advice at this point.”

I assumed that going to a four-year undergraduate college and getting degree would at least get me my foot in the door somewhere. It would give me a chance. Why else did I pay all this money for this degree? I set my sights on technology.

I set my sights on one of these leading tech companies and I applied to them. I got rejected pretty quickly.

I figured I needed to go get some advice. I stopped by my career counselor’s office at Wake Forest. I talked to my parents. I talked to my friends, who had landed jobs. I kind of tried to consolidate all of their advice. The common theme was that I should basically find jobs online, Tweet my resume for them, personalize my resume and my cover letter, apply for them and then kind of cross my fingers and hope that somebody got back to me.

If nobody got back to me, then the next step was to basically rinse and repeat until somebody did. I was told pretty frequently that it was a numbers game, so the more stuff I threw up against the wall, the better chance I had of something sticking and landing that job offer. I continued down that path.

I took a step back and I started applying to companies in the mid-tier startup range and didn’t hear anything from them. I started with early stage startups and didn’t hear anything from them. Then I was applying to companies that just had the word tech somewhere on their site. I still didn’t hear anything from them.

At this point I was really frustrated because I was doing everything I was supposed to do. I just had gotten this quarter of a million dollar education that’s supposed to get me a job. That’s the whole point of it. Here I was with nothing. I was incredibly, incredibly angry, but I didn’t know what else to do.

About that same time I was reaching out to some alumni at Wake and somebody I had a conversation with basically gave me a light bulb moment. They told me that I was taking advice from the wrong people. I thought that was crazy because throughout our lives when we grow up, the people that we look to for advice are our parents and our friends and our teachers and the people that we look up to.

I was like, “I don’t understand. What exactly do you mean?” He said you should only be taking advice from the people who already have what you want.” That really resonated with me because while my parents were successful in their own right and my friends had been successful out of college in their own right, none of them had come out with a terrible GPA and a biology degree and a job in medicine with three months of professional experience, and now I had aspirations to work at Microsoft or Google.

I realized that I needed to go out and find people who had done that and had done it successfully and quickly and who were around my age.

I immediately drove home and I wrote down criteria for my job search or my dream job, rather. Those were – there were four criteria. The first was to be working at a leading company like a Google or a Microsoft or Facebook; to be making over $100,000 a year; to be working in a major city like New York, San Francisco, and LA; and finally, to be doing that all before the age of 26 because I didn’t want to wait until I was 40 for all this to come to fruition.

I took my list of my criteria and I went out on LinkedIn and I found people who matched that criteria as best as I possibly could. I tried to find these young folks who are working at those amazing companies. I looked at their salaries on Glassdoor to make sure that they were in the range. Then I just started reaching out cold. I probably reached out to about 50 or 60 people. Roughly 10 to 15 got back to me. I started having-

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a decent ratio.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. I was very, very surprised, especially for the first pass. I think it was more beginners’ luck than anything because when I started my full outreach for the job search later on, the ratio was not so good and I had to do a little bit of learning to improve that. But for whatever reason it seemed to work out.

I had conversations with these people. I tried to learn as much as I could about their stories and the strategies that they used and how they approached this job search. There were a couple of common themes.

The first was that all of them had gotten in via a referral of some kind, which is really interesting to me. The second was that they all found creative ways to illustrate their value. They stepped outside of the box, the traditional box, of a resume and a cover letter and some interview answers to illustrate their value. That was also really interesting to me.

I took what I learned and I did a bunch of research. I basically made it my mission to turn the hiring process into a game and try to figure out how I could create some shortcuts. A lot of my time was spent learning how to build relationships with people I’d never met before, finding ways to understand the challenges they were facing, the challenges their companies were facing, new initiatives and projects that they were releasing, basically any way that I could add value.

Then I would go back and I would research those problems and I would come up with creative ways to highlight what I brought to the table and the tangible value that I offered if they took a chance on me. I basically spun those up over the next couple of years to land offers at Microsoft and Google and Twitter and a whole bunch of other places. The rest is history, so here I am.

But after I started working at Microsoft, I had a bunch of people from Wake Forest reach out to me and they were like, “Aren’t you the kid who graduated with like a 2.5 GPA? How the heck are you working at Microsoft?” When the 20th person asked me that I thought I’m having the same conversation with all these people, maybe I could find a way to write this down in a scalable fashion.

I started up my site. I came up with my name pretty off the cuff. I really just wanted to get this blog post out there. I wrote it all up. I did some promotion. It got an incredibly positive response from friends and family but also from strangers on the internet. That’s really how this whole thing started. Now we’ve been going strong from about three years.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig into the particulars on these tactics, so the creative ways of demonstrating your value and acquiring these referrals. How did you do it and how have you seen other people do it successfully?

Austin Belcak
Definitely. The overarching theme here is find people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision for the role that you want, number one. Number two is to build a relationship with them regardless of whether you’ve met them or not.

I was talking to somebody earlier on the phone today and she was like, “You mean reach out to total strangers?” I was like, “Yeah, we’ve got to reach out to total strangers.” It’s overcoming that barrier as well. Then finally, those creative ways to illustrate your values.

If we start with the first piece there, when we talk about locating or identifying people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision, it really comes down to somebody who would be your manager if you got hired or would be your colleague sitting at the desk next to you.

I think a lot of people feel like reaching out to recruiters is something that is really important and needs to be done, but I personally don’t recommend it. Recruiters – it’s no knock against recruiters because what they do is really important, but they are inundated with emails and it is so hard to stand out.

Even if you do get the opportunity to stand out and they reply to you, their influence ends when they refer you in for an interview. They’re not going to be able to advocate for you through the hiring process. They’re not going to be in the room where the hiring decision is made.

But if you get in touch with somebody who would be sitting at the desk next to you on your team or would be your manager, they can also refer you in, but then they can also kind of be your champion internally and coach you through the interview process. They can advocate for you in the room where the actual hiring decision is being made. That is so critical.

But on top of that, they’re not getting bombarded with emails from potential candidates. It’s also a lot easier to get in touch with them using the right outreach strategies. That’s the first step is kind of getting yourself in the mindset of who to reach out to, why, and then we have to go out and find them.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you tell me in terms of the who, I guess how do you know that the person from the outside looking in, that the person you’re reaching out to would in fact be your manager or your colleague in the desk next to you?

I suppose in some ways if they have pretty specific titles, you can be like, “Oh yes, that’s dead on,” but other times the title might be something – I thinking of Microsoft, thousands of people might have the same title in terms of what they’re doing. How do you get clear on these would be the nine people that would be the influencers on what I’m really after?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head, Pete. You’re never going to be able to – that’s not true. Never say never. You may get a tip on who the hiring manager is and that’s great. But in the majority of cases, you’re not going to be able to pinpoint the exact hiring manager. The best thing that you can do is take an educated guess. That’s exactly what you mentioned.

Let’s say I want a job at Microsoft in New York as an account manager. I can go look up all the account managers that currently work at Microsoft in New York. That’s probably going to be my best target base. I do know that if I reach out to all of them that I will hit somebody who will be on the team I’m being hired for because I reach out to literally everybody. That’s one way to cover it.

I also recommend reaching out to as many people as you can. A lot of people ask me, “Is it weird if I reach out to multiple people at the same company? What if they start talking about me? What if my name gets out there? Is that going to hurt my chances?” At the end of the day, no. That’s not what I’ve seen.

My background is in sales and I’m in sales now. There’s a nice little anecdote that sales people like to throw around where a lot of the deals get done or big steps or breakthroughs happen on the seventh touch point. It’s really about that familiarity. You kind of have to get – the more that you get in front of somebody rather, the more familiar you become and the more likely they are to then take that action.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking in a way I imagine if they do talk about you. Then it’s conceivably possible that they’d say, “Oh my gosh, why is this guy wasting our time? I already gave him the answers, so he’s talking to three other people who give him the same answers,” but I think it might be more likely that the response is, “Whoa, we almost never see candidates who are so committed as to go to this length to get in. That’s interesting. We should take a closer look at this guy.”

Austin Belcak
100%. That is – the majority of the times that I’ve gone through this and when I’ve coached people and gotten feedback, and even talked to the hiring managers themselves, that is the exact feedback we’ve gotten. People are typically – they typically see that as a sign of persistence and a sign of enthusiasm and motivation and a differentiator from all these other candidates who are just relying on the baseline or the minimum required to kind of get their foot in the door.

But on top of that, some of the other tactics we’re going to talk about in a second here are going to make it so that even if there was a doubt, even if they are kind of around the water cooler and they’re like, “Who’s this Pete person? His name’s come up. I don’t know. He’s kind of weird. He’s reaching out to all of us.”

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely weird.

Austin Belcak
The next step is going to wipe that off the table, which is once you’re able to – this is kind of two-fold. When we think about creating something valuable that illustrates our value and it is compelling to the person, there’s two ways to get it. We can either get it from the contacts themselves or we can get it through our own research.

One of the most important things you can do is put in as much time researching this company as you possibly can. If you do that ahead of time, if you do that before you reach out to people, you’re going to be that much more prepared when you are reaching out. You’re going to have better outreach, but also a lot of times somebody will – people will be surprised.

If you’ve never done cold outreach before, you never know when somebody is going to hit you back up and say, “Hey, I have time in two hours. Can we talk then?” Then the fear and the stress set in if you’re not prepared and you scramble to think of questions and you don’t know what to talk to them about.

But if you spent this time researching the company and you understand the challenges they’re facing, how they’re addressing them, the wins that they’ve had, what’s their current status on X, Y, and Z projects or X, Y, and Z brands, then you come to the table with that much more ammunition to start and drive the conversation. Doing some of this research ahead of time is really, really powerful, but it also allows you to come up with some value-add angles ahead of time.

Then you can either – basically the conversations that you have, you can flush those out. You can kind of validate them. You can tease them out with questions or posing different ideas or statements that relate to the thing you’ve come up with and you can gauge the response.

If the person on the other side says, “That’s actually something that we’re working on,” then great you kind of have something to work off of. But if they’re like, “Oh yeah, we tried that. It was terrible. Totally failed,” then you know that you kind of need to pivot. Getting that research in ahead of time is really, really critical.

When we’re talking about public companies, they tend to be a little bit easier to research than private companies. But just two of my favorite ways to kind of understand where things are going at a high level for those companies are one to listen to their earnings calls.

Every publicly traded company out there, every quarter they have an earnings call and they’ll share it publicly. If you just type in the company name and investor relations on Google, that page should pop up and they should have the most recent webcast.

Basically what they do is – the calls are typically about anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour long. If you’re pressed for time you can kind of find the MP3, and download it and then speed it up in iTunes, 2x, and save yourself some minutes.

But basically what they talk about is – it’s their presentation to the shareholders as to why the company is in the current state that it is and what they’re doing to make it better. If there’s a challenge, they’re going to address it. If there’s a win, they’re going to call it out. Then they’re going to talk about the future, “What are we doing to capitalize on the momentum of the win? How are we thinking about addressing or fixing the challenge that we saw, which caused numbers to drop?”

That’s a great way to get a high level overview of what happened recently and what the company is driving towards in the future. Then I like to go to a site called SeekingAlpha.com, which is basically-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a financial blog, where all these analysts kind of come together and they write pieces on different companies. You can go in and you can punch in the stock ticker for a company. There’s two columns. There’s a news column, which is basically your objective stuff like the “Dow dropped 460 points today,” “This stock was impacted X amount,” very objective.

But on the other side there’s analysis, which is where those analysts come in and they basically give their opinion. It’s really helpful because you can pretty much find five different angles on the same topic.

Somebody will tell you why Facebook’s handling of private data is going to be the demise of their company. Then the next article is how some guy is talking about Facebook’s handing of private data is going to help them learn and help all of us learn and it’s going to cause their stock to skyrocket in the future.

Regardless of which position you agree with, you get a sense of all the different angles that you could potentially approach this subject from. That is going to give you a lot of ammunition to have these conversations, but also come up with unique ways to add value.

I was just talking to one of the people that I coach. He was looking for a job at Apple. He couldn’t think of a way to add value. We went on the site and the third article down was Here’s Six Things Apple Isn’t Doing Right Now That Could be Making Them Millions of Dollars. They literally listed out six things and they had specific arguments for their ideas. We grabbed a couple of them and we threw them in the deck and put his spin on them and leveraged that as our value-add project.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting when you say throw them in the deck and value add project, can we talk about when in the course of this relationship building do you trot that out? My hunch is it might be a little different. You say, “Hey, I’d love to chat with you about X, Y, Z.” They go, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ve got 15 minutes to chat in two hours.” You say, “Great.” Then you’re on the phone. It’s like, “Please open up to slide three.” How do you kind of time and sequence that?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, most definitely. It actually – the best answer that I can give is that it depends on the situation. If you’re reaching out and you can’t even get anybody on the phone and you can’t even get any replies, then you may need to trot it out at that point to add enough value to get a response, to trigger a response from somebody.

But let’s say that you are getting replies, things are working well, you’re getting people to set up meetings with you, typically what I like to do is have a few meetings first. I like to as soon as I start outreach, I want to have a general idea of the type of value that I could potentially add. My hope is that the conversation that I have with this person is going to one validate my idea in some fashion. Maybe give me some pieces of the greater picture or puzzle that I can then bake into the project itself.

Then I like to have a couple of these questions, so I get all these different perspectives or a couple of these conversations. Then once I’ve had a few of those, I’m sort of in this place where I’ve talked to the first round of people and I’m teed up for the second round of people. Then I like to approach it by following up. I like to use the value validation project as a means to follow up and drive the relationship with the people I’ve had conversations with.

Let’s say Pete, I reach out to you and we had a conversation, I’m going to go back and finish my project and then I’m going to send you an email. I’m going to say, “Pete, thank you so much for taking 30 minutes to chat with me last week. I really enjoyed our conversation, especially the piece around this challenge that you’re having about getting more new customers.

I’ve actually done some thinking about it and I’ve put together a few ideas around how I think you guys could leverage your existing audience to drive more customers through referrals. I’ve attached that here. Would love to get your thoughts. Email is fine, but if you time for another call, great.” Then I’ll email that off to them.

Basically what that does is one it allows me to follow up the first time. It provides value that showcases my skills, my experience, what I bring to the table, but it also opens up the door for a second follow up because if that person doesn’t reply, I can email them again and say, “Hey, did you get what I sent?”

But if they do reply then the conversation is going. Now maybe they give me feedback over email and now we’re going back and forth. They’re getting more invested in me with each email and with each suggestion or better yet we get on the phone and we build more of that personal rapport. We’re talking instead of typing. Maybe it’s even face-to-face in person. But we’re kind of building that relationship and I’m adding value that directly relates to that person’s team, that person’s company, a role that’s open.

That’s typically when I like to trot it out, usually about five business days or so after we had the call. Then when it comes time to interview, I usually like to bring it with me into the interview. Then we’ll have the interview as planned.

Then at the very end when the interviewer is like, “All right, thanks so much for stopping by. Is there anything else?”  I’ll usually say, “Yeah, there’s one more thing. I talked to a few people at the company here on your team and they told me that your biggest challenge is X,” or “You have this new initiative coming up called Y and I put together some thoughts around that.”

Then I’ll slide it across the table to them and I’ll just say, “No need to look at it right now. I know you’re really busy. I appreciate the time, but if you do have a minute to look at it over the next day or two, please do. Definitely let me know if you have feedback. Thanks so much.”

Again that opens the door for you to follow up with your interviewer and a lot of people struggle with that. Following up is key to making sure that you’re staying top of mind and that they are driving the interviewing process and the hiring process on their end. Those are kind of the two times that I like to bring it out and leverage it most. I think that’s a good segue into what exactly does that project look like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. This reminds me, I think Ramit Sethi calls this the briefcase technique in terms of there’s a very kind of a dramatic moment. It’s like, “What? Nobody else has ever extracted a document and handed it to me. What’s going on here? Oh,” ….

Austin Belcak
And they all use that voice too. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if they’re saying this out loud, but they’re thinking it to themselves hopefully because it’s just a huge differentiator. I guess a real key is that you in those conversations you’ve done a good job of zeroing in on, yes, this is their biggest challenge and yes, these are some ideas that might be workable.

You’re also kind of getting some useful feedback in terms of “Oh no, they really hate podcast advertising,” I don’t know. But nobody hates podcast advertising. It’s so effective and been proven many times.

Austin Belcak
Speaking of.

Pete Mockaitis
For example if they’re trying to acquire new customers and you’ve got these ideas and you’re having conversations and they say, “Oh no, they are totally against this,” because, I don’t know, it’s not measurable, it’s very visual, whatever their excuse is. Okay, now you know, so you’ve something that is sort of new and distinctive and feels innovative, like you’re smart, but also not just sort of way crazy out there or disgusting to them for whatever reasons or bias they have against them.

You’ve sort of fine-tuned something that’s pretty excellent by the time you’re in the interview. That’s cool and it’s exciting. I imagine just about nobody does this because it’s too much effort and they don’t want to risk it when there’s no guarantee, but on the flip side if you think about the time you spend blasting applications to hundreds or thousands of opportunities, it’s probably more time effective than the alternative.

Austin Belcak
Most definitely. I’m actually going back a few minutes here. I’m really glad you brought up Ramit because that’s actually where this idea kind of came from. I watched that briefcase technique video.

One of the ways that I built the experience to be able to even be considered for some of these roles at Microsoft and Google was starting up my own freelance consulting firm for digital marketing. The briefcase technique was something that I used to land clients. When I started applying for some of these jobs, I thought why not do something similar for these companies. That’s exactly what it was born out of.

But I’m also really glad that you brought up the point of it taking a lot of effort. Two objections that I typically get are that it takes a lot of effort and what if a company just takes my work and runs with it. I totally understand where people are coming from with both of those. But first for the ‘it takes a lot of work’ piece, it definitely does. But to your point, how much work are you spending applying online every day and is that making you happy? Also is it bettering you?

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. You’re learning a ton as you do this. Maybe it’s not applicable for Microsoft, but hey, Adobe is doing similar stuff.

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. It even goes beyond that. There aren’t too many transferable skills from applying online, but if you train your brain to get into this mode of consuming information with a lens of identifying problems and coming up with solutions quickly, that’s a pretty valuable skill to have anywhere in your career, whether you’re job searching, whether you’re trying to increase revenue or drive against goals that your boss gave you or come up with ideas to make a case for a promotion or a raise or starting your own company or business in pitching people.

No matter what you’re doing business-wise having a mindset of knowing where to find the right information, knowing how to tease out problems, that’s really, really valuable. This is kind of the first step there.

It definitely does take work, but you’re going to be that much better for it as a professional and as a person. That’s something I’ve seen direct benefits from even starting the business here and within my career at Microsoft.

Then the second objection is always what if the company steals my work and runs with it. I get what people are saying. There’s something that I’ve heard from a lot of people who advocate for the traditional job search and traditional business practices, which is basically if you’re good at something you should never do it for free.

I think that that’s changed in our world today because it’s so competitive. Whether you’re starting a business or searching for a job, there’s so much competition out there. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, a lot of people are still abiding by that methodology of not giving anything away for free and they’re the ones who are going to lose out.

If you really think about it, sure, you’re putting in a lot of time, but how much is a new job worth? When I got my job at Microsoft, I got a $60,000 raise. That’s by no means the norm, but the job before that I got a $20,000 raise, so let’s call that closer to even.

I think I spent probably maybe 20 hours coming with a value validation project for them and doing some research and putting it all together and then presenting it. If I think about it from that lens, I basically got paid 1,000 bucks an hour to come up with that project. I’ll take that hourly rate any day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Austin Belcak
That’s awesome. When people are worried about putting in the work and also companies stealing their work, I think you need to think of it more as the long-term strategy, a long-term investment. if a company is going to steal your ideas and just run with it, that’s a great litmus test for whether or not that’s a company you want to work for.

Pete Mockaitis
And if they steal your idea and you learn about that in the future, that goes on your resume.

Austin Belcak
Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
….

Austin Belcak
You have the proof. You can show when they executed it and when you came up with it and sent it to them.

Pete Mockaitis
That goes on your resume. They did almost all the work.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
You did 20 hours’ worth. They did 3,000 hours’ worth.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, yeah. That’s awesome. That’s basically, it’s a short-sighted business strategy. All the great companies that I know, they want to invest in people who are going to bring great ideas to the table every day and they’re going to constantly be innovating and thinking of new ways to solve problems and be willing to roll up their sleeves.

On top of that, if I have an idea and I give you the framework, you’re probably not going to execute it the same way that I had in mind, whether or not it’s better or worse is up in the air. But if I’m a company I want to – I don’t want to just take this one idea.

I want to invest in the person who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard enough without even being employed at my company to come up with an idea like this because I know that once I bring them into the fold and give them all the inside information and the resources and all of that, they’re going to 10x those ideas and they’re going to be so, so impactful to the business.

If a company does steal your ideas, to me that’s a company that I don’t want to work for. Imagine what happens when they’re paying you and now that your manager is stealing all of your ideas the same way that they did when you applied for the job. That’s just a situation that you don’t want to be in. The great companies out there recognize that the person who is coming up with the ideas is far more valuable than the specific idea itself.

Then finally on that topic, how badly do you want the job? If you’re worried about a company stealing your project, just think about what you’re doing now. Is it working? Because if it’s not, if you’re applying online, if you’re trying to network and you’re doing this stuff and it’s just not working, you need to try something else.

If you’re so worried about a company stealing your project, but what you’re doing right now isn’t working, something has to give one way or the other. I’d much rather put in some time bettering myself, like honing my analytical thinking, my problem solving skills to come up with this idea that even if the company takes it and runs with it, like you said Pete, you can take the credit for it, you can put it on your resume, but you can also take that knowledge and the skills that you learned from going through that process and you can move on to the next company.

That’s how I typically handle both of those objections with people. But I’m happy to also give examples of specific projects that people have put together if you think that would be helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, let’s hear examples of the projects and sort of the deliverable. It sounds like you’re working with PowerPoint slides and kind of what makes it great? Is there kind of a rough range of slides and what is the stuff that really makes you seem brilliant as opposed to like, “Yeah, okay. You Googled something. I’m not impressed.”

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. Right off the bat, I’d say that this is all about getting creative and focusing in on two things. One, what is valuable to the company, so what do they care about. Then also, what medium will help you best get that value across.

I mentioned PowerPoint decks because that’s what was easiest for me and that’s what was natural for me. But I know there are a lot of people out there who are into video or maybe they’re developers and they know how to code things and build things.

There’s so many different mediums that you can get the value across with that anything that you can do to stand out is great and anything you feel comfortable with is also great. A lot of people aren’t writers out there, but maybe they’re videographers. A video is great. But if you are more of a writer than a videographer, a blog post is great. Again, whatever you feel comfortable with.

Just to give a few examples. There are a couple that I really like. The first one is from a student named Cam. She was at Northeastern and she wanted a job at Airbnb. She had applied online and didn’t hear anything. She reached out to a bunch of the people who worked there. She also didn’t hear anything from her outreach.

We got to talking and I was like, “What do you want to do? Do you want to try and come up with something else? Do you want to move on?” She said, “I haven’t done everything I could possibly do to get my foot in the door here.”

She went out and she actually combed through social media to find pain points that real Airbnb customers had about the business. She screenshotted the pain points that people had. She consolidated them and she kind of analyzed them to find two that really stood out.

Those two were the lack of a keyword filter. Basically if I wanted to rent an apartment in Chicago for the night that had a hot tub and I could look right down into Wrigley, I don’t think that’s possible, but regardless, if I wanted that, I wouldn’t be able to search for that specifically. I would basically have to search for listings in Wrigleyville and then click on each individual one and see if it had a hot tub and a view.

That’s not a great user experience because it requires a lot of effort on the user’s end. Naturally people were upset about that. The second piece was getting in touch with their customer service. Apparently, Airbnb’s customer service is like notoriously bad. Cam came up with ideas for both of those.

For the first, she went out and she found people and she asked them to go through this task of finding listings with specific criteria and asked them for their feedback and how they would improve it. She took all of their feedback and the recommendations and she mocked it up into an actual flow of what it would like within Airbnb’s app. That was one solution.

Then the second was she went out and did a bunch of research on the benefits of live chat, so basically having a little widget on your site that would allow people to interact with the site immediately and get the help they need immediately without a huge cost or overhead to Airbnb itself.

Basically she went out and she found all these benefits that showed that having live chat increased customer retention and increased satisfaction, increased revenue, all these metrics that any company wants to continue to improve.

What she did was she put together a deck, where she basically teed up the – she had screenshots from all these people on social media complaining about the thing. Then she went through and talked about the methodology of how she got the results. Then she showcased the solution.

That was about an eight-slide deck. It wasn’t anything crazy. It wasn’t professionally designed or anything. Anybody listening to this could have put it together. But then she sent it out to the same contact that she had reached out to before and she got a reply the next day. She was in their office for an interview the next week. That’s a great, great example.

Pete Mockaitis
But did she get the job Austin? We’ve got to get closure.

Austin Belcak
She did. She did. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Hooray.

Austin Belcak
Yes, yes, yes. Of course, of course. I mean how could you not hire somebody who was doing that? Then that’s the whole point.

She went out and she found this tangible problem. She wasn’t like, “Hey, I think that your customers are having this issue.” She said, “Your customers are having this issue. Here’s how you fix it. I’m the person who has these kinds of ideas and will help you execute on that.”

Of course, they’re not – who’s going to hire somebody who’s just coming up with a resume and a cover letter, black and white ink, all of that, over somebody who went out and did marketplace research, customer research, and came up with actual tangible value for the company? That’s the type of thing that we’re talking about.

Just to give one more example that’s a very different end of the spectrum. There’s a guy named Tristan who he wanted job at Foursquare. This is about six – seven years ago when Foursquare was really booming. They were releasing an ad product. They had all these advertisers currently on the platform. They were looking to grow.

Tristan saw that they had an opening on their sales team and he really wanted it. Instead of just applying online, he went out and he basically mapped – he made a map of all the companies that were currently advertising on Foursquare. Then he went out and created a list of companies that were sort of lookalike, who matched the same criteria. Then he went and started reaching out to them. He generated about ten leads.

He got in touch with people, had conversations, positioned himself as a supporter of Foursquare. Then he sent an email to the CEO of Foursquare. He said, “Hey, you guys have an opening on your sales team. I’m really, really interested in it. I didn’t apply online. I didn’t do anything else, but I have ten people at companies who are ready to advertise with you today. I’m happy to give you their names and I’m happy to put you in touch with them. When can we meet?”

The CEO replied to him. They onboarded those ten companies. Tristan got hired not just as a regular salesperson, but actually as the director of sales.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. That’s another great example of thinking outside the box. He could have easily said – somebody who’s able to convince ten people to try a product for a company they don’t even work for has a good track record in sales ahead of time.

He could have easily said on his resume, “Over attainer, averaging 150% quota at my company,” but then he’d sound like exactly every other salesperson applying for the job. But by actually going out there and sourcing leads, which is exactly what they’re hiring this person to do and then bringing them to the CEO, again, same story as Cam from Airbnb. Why would they hire anybody else because they know that this person can do exactly what they’re asking for?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that because when we talk about value, which can be a nebulous word at times, it’s so precise in terms of okay, these are real companies, who are quite likely to give us real money real soon. That’s great.

Then that also gets you thinking in terms of the value you’re creating doesn’t just have to be thoughts, ideas, input from users or customers, but it could be real precise in terms of generating revenue like, “These are leads we might buy from you right now,” or slashing cost in terms of providing actual vendors.

It’s like, “I’ve spoken with three people who have experience in automating manufacturing packaging lines and can totally handle doing box-dried macaroni,” I’m just inventing a totally new example, “and are happy to chat.”

If you’ve already validated that “Yes, sure enough they’re looking to slash manufacturing cost and there’s a lot of waste showing up in packaging. It’s very manual to figure out where the problems are coming from and how to address them,” then that could really resonate. Then it’s like, “Wow, we’ve never heard of these companies before and we should,” or, “Yeah, we’ve talked to one of them but haven’t heard of the other two. You’re bringing in new stuff that we hadn’t even considered.”

You can only be perceived positively unless you did a really shoddy job in terms of “This isn’t a real problem that we’re worried abbot. This thing that you’re proposing is completely farfetched and unworkable.” Assuming that you’ve got a reasonable quality, it’s huge in terms of showing what you can do.

Austin Belcak
Yup, absolutely. That’s basically the overarching strategy there. The best way that people can get started is to just start reaching out to people who are in a position to help them get hired. I know that that can be somewhat of a daunting task for people who have never reached out cold before. I have plenty of resources on my site to help people with that. I have templates of scripts and all that.

But the best thing that I can recommend is just start with one person per day. You can even do one person a weekday, so just five emails a week. Just find somebody on LinkedIn. You can look up their professional email using a tool like Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert, V-O-I-L-ANorbert.

You get their email, you just shoot them a note and you say, “Hey, I’m really impressed with your experience and I’d love to learn more about how you were able to achieve and accomplish all the things that you have in your career. Can we talk more about it?” Definitely probably go into a little more detail and personalization than that, but something along those lines.

Just start sending one email a day and I promise you, you will get responses. When you start getting responses and you start having these conversations, everything else is going to kind of fall into place. That’s the best next step that I can recommend. Yeah, Pete, I really, really appreciate the opportunity and you having me on here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, this was fun, definitely. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Austin Belcak
Yes. It’s not necessarily job search related, but it could be. But for me something that’s resonated and I’ve been trying to focus on is that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think that is a Teddy Roosevelt quote.

I don’t know if you’ve run into this building your business, but it’s very easy to go on LinkedIn or somebody else’s blog and be like, “Man, they have so many more visitors than I do,” or “so many more likes and they’re doing so much better. That’s something that I really struggle with personally. I have that quote written up on our chalkboard in our kitchen here. I’m trying my best to kind of abide by it every day and just focus on me.

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

Austin Belcak
Oh, I can relate this one to the job search. Interviews are very fascinating environments for me because I am a big psychology fan. One of the things that I always recommend to people – I have two. I don’t know if we have time.

But the first one I’d recommend is basically in a series of events, people are most likely to remember the first thing, the first event and the last event.

When we think about that in the context of interviews, interviews all sort of follow the same progression. There’s the intro and the small talk kind of before you sit down at the table. Then you dive into the questions. There’s some soft balls. Then maybe you get into behavioral, maybe technical, case study questions. Then towards the end of the interview, the interviewer asks you if you have any questions for them.

[51:00]

For the majority of interviewers out there, a lot of the answers are to the middle section are going to be the same. “Tell me about a time you failed. Tell me about your greatest weakness. Tell me about a time you succeeded,” all that stuff. The answers are all going to be sort of in the same ball park. But if we think about that principle where people remember the first and last event in the series, those happen to be the two events in the interview that we actually have the most control over.

You can drive the small talk at the beginning of an interview. If you do some research on your interviewer, you looked them up on Google, you looked them up on LinkedIn, maybe you find their Facebook profile, they have Twitter feed, and you try and find some piece of information that you can bring up at the beginning of the conversation that sort of sparks more personal talks so the formal barrier comes down.

That’s a great way to start the interview and that’s something that they’re going to be likely to remember.

Then at the very end if you can ask great questions. I also have an article on my site about – I just have a set of five questions. I know a lot of the articles I read give you like a million questions out there and tell you they’re all great, but I did a bunch of research using a lot of those questions and these are the five that I found to be the most effective.

But if you ask a great question that kind of incite a conversation and are a little bit on the unique side versus what everybody else might be asking, that’s also going to be very, very memorable. Doing both of these things will typically open up or give you some ammunition for a follow up.

Maybe that personal conversation – maybe this person tells you, “Hey, I’m getting married. I’m going on my honeymoon,” or “We had this vacation planned,” or “Hey, I just started brewing my own craft beer,” or “meditating,” or whatever. All of that is great ammunition for you to then go and follow up.

Ask them “What beers have you brewed? Where can I find a recipe?” “I love that book that you mentioned. Who’s the author again?” Then you can say – you can send them a follow up and say, “I read the book. My favorite point was X, Y, and Z. I totally understand why you said X about it.” It really opens the door to continue the conversation and continue building the relationship.

But that is a long-winded answer to your question, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. Certainly. How about a favorite book?

Austin Belcak
That’s a good one. I think my favorite book is probably recently probably The Power of Habit. That’s one that my wife and I both love. I think habits are so critical to success in any capacity. They really drive – once you read that book you realize just how much habits drive most of your life. If you can build the right ones, you’re definitely going to set yourself up for success.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Austin Belcak
My favorite tool would probably have to be one of the ones I mentioned before, which would be Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s really amazing ….

Austin Belcak
Yeah, they were a total game changer to me. But since I already mentioned them, for people wondering what they are, they basically allow you to look up anyone’s professional email address.

[54:00]

A related tool that should go hand-in-hand and I recommend to all my job seekers is it’s called Yesware, Y-E-S-W-A-R-E. It’s essentially an email tracker. This is a little bit creepy to be transparent, but it will allow you to basically see the activity on all the emails you sent.

You can when people open your email, how many times, how often, where, when, and if they engage with it. If there’s a link in it, it will tell you if they clicked on the link. It will tell you what device they opened it on. It’s pretty wild.

But the reason it’s so helpful is because when you’re reaching out cold to a lot of these people, you need to understand that a random email from a total stranger is probably low on their priority list no matter how badly they want to help you. Just because you don’t get a response, doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t want to help you or isn’t interested.

I gauge interest using email tracker. If somebody opens my email multiple times, then to me that is indicative that they’re thinking about it, they’re interested in it, they’re just very, very busy. I’m going to follow up five business days later. If they only open it once or they don’t open at all, then that means it’s time to move on to the next person.

Pairing using Hunter to find people’s emails and then using email tracker to gauge the engagement on their end, those are two of the most powerful tools you can use for finding strangers and reaching out to them and starting to build a relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Austin Belcak
I think my favorite habit, which I haven’t done enough of recently is getting up early and working out. It doesn’t have to be – one of the things that – I’m pretty much an all or nothing type of person. I’m either completely bought into something and probably investing too much time and energy into it or I’m not doing it at all.

Something that I realized recently was that even just going and running on the treadmill for ten minutes makes a huge difference in my ability to focus and manage my emotions for the rest of the day.

Then also getting up early. A lot of people ask me how I run my business while having a full time job and getting up at 5:00 in the morning, 5:30 in the morning, working out and then coming back, I still have two hours before work to write some blog posts or do some outreach or whatever it is that I need to do. I think both of those combined are probably the thing that’s had the biggest impact on my life recently.

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

Austin Belcak
Definitely. I always leave with anybody is welcome to reach out and email me. I can’t be the person to tell you to cold email strangers and then not be the guy replies. My email is Austin@CultivatedCulture.com.

[57:00]

Then if people want to take the next step kind of and dive into some deeper material, if people listening go to CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome, there are two resources there. First, I keep a lot of data on the strategies that I recommend to people. I don’t recommend anything that I haven’t tested out myself or with the audience. I consolidated the five most effective strategies that I found from coaching thousands of people for the last few years. Those are available there.

Then I also have a course that I call Resume Revamp. It’s my approach to writing an effective resume. Hundreds and hundreds of people have used it to transform their resume and land jobs at the places we mentioned before, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etcetera. Again, that’s CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome. Yes, please feel free to reach out to me if you guys have any questions at all.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Austin, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for doing what you’re doing and keep it up.

Austin Belcak
Thank you, Pete, likewise. I’m a huge fan of the podcast. For everybody listening, if you haven’t already, please go and leave a review for Pete because those are a big deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh thanks.

Austin Belcak
No problem.

369: Avoiding The Perils of Workplace Technology with Dan Schawbel

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New York Times bestselling author Dan Schawbel discusses appropriate uses of technology and how to find fulfillment in your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to set career expectations
  2. Three tips for increasing productivity and improving work relationships
  3. How (and when!) to use technology to improve relationships

About Dan

Dan Schawbel is a New York Times bestselling author, Partner and Research Director at Future Workplace, and the Founder of both Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com. Through his companies, he’s conducted dozens of research studies and worked with major brands including American Express, GE, Microsoft, Virgin, IBM, Coca Cola and Oracle. Dan has interviewed over 2,000 of the world’s most successful people, including Warren Buffett, Anthony Bourdain, Jessica Alba, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and me! He is the host of “5 Questions with Dan Schawbel”, a podcast where he interviews a variety of world-class humans by asking them 5 questions in less than 15 minutes. In addition, he has written countless articles for Forbes, Fortune, TIME, The Economist, The Harvard Business Review, and others that have combined generated over 15 million views. Schawbel has been profiled or quoted in over 2,000 media outlets. He has been recognized on several lists including Inc. & Forbes Magazines “30 Under 30.”

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dan Schawbel Interview Transcript

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

Dan Schawbel
I’m very excited to be here, my friend.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hear the story you recently conquered your fear of heights in Costa Rica. What’s the back story there?

Dan Schawbel
I was really anxious going to Costa Rica. I was watching all of these videos on YouTube of people canyoning and zip lining and I had so much fear. I’ve been afraid of heights my whole life.

My friends that I went with, they’ve done some crazy things in their life. My friend, Pete, he has zip lined in … places in the world. My other friend, we call him the crazy Russian, Slava, he’s bungee jumped, he’s jumped out of a helicopter, he’s done some crazy stuff.

And so, just going with them and knowing that I would be really pushed out of my comfort zone, gave me a lot of anxiety. And I have a lot of anxiety as is, so it just … up a notch.

I finally just gained the courage. I’m like, “Let’s do this. When am I going to go to Costa Rica again?” So we land, the next morning we go canyoning first. It was really intense because when you go in this canyon, you have to propel down these massive waterfalls. The first waterfall is like eight feet, but the second one is almost directly after that and that’s 150 feet. And I’ve never done this before.

And what I did was I went first because I knew the more I would wait, the higher my anxiety would be, more … I would be. I would always go first and that’s how I got around that fear is, “Hey, I’m just going to get this over with.” In many ways that’s how I’ve handled a lot of situations in life. I just replicated it in terms of to beat the fear.

A few days later we went zip lining and that was … the biggest and tallest zip lines in all of Costa Rica. I think one of the zip lines was a mile long. They would tell us that if you get stuck on the zip line, because you’re not going fast enough, then you have to crawl yourself back. maybe it happens a few times a year, but to me that builds up so much fear because what if I’m the person. What if I’m stuck and I’m looking down and you see the rainforest and the jungle and you’re like, “Oh my God, let me live through this.”

What really helped with the anxiety was going before my friends, but because it was a 75-year-old woman and five little kids who were zip lining with us. I was like, “Oh, if they can do it, I can do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, that’s encouraging when the elderly pull it off. Great to hear. You did it. How do you feel?

Dan Schawbel
I feel good, but I’m also not ready to sign up for it again either.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it also sounds like you’ve got your hands kind of full. You’ve got multiple roles going on, founder of Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com and partner and research director at Future Workplace. Can you orient us a little bit, what is your job, your thing, what do you do?

Dan Schawbel
For the past month, I’ve really come to the conclusion that I’m just a curious person who asks a lot of questions. I’d start there, because since 2012 I’ve conducted over 40 research studies, including this new one for Back to Human, the new book with Virgin Pulse.

I’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ve surveyed over 90,000 people in over 20 countries, and I do all the questionnaires, so I’ve had to think of many, many, many, many questions through that.

Then I’ve also interviewed over 2,000 people one-on-one. These are anywhere from professors to authors, to astronauts, to Warren Buffett, Donald Trump, a wide variety of people and each of those interviews is five questions …. It’s really about learning as much as I can from people and through data and create and … those stories through the media, through books, and through everything else I do.

So that’s the core of what I do is ask questions. I’m also you could say an entrepreneur. I’m partner … Future Workplace. I do all the research through them, but we also put on four events every year, two on the east coast of America, two on the west coast. These events are for heads of HR companies that we serve. We also have an AI course and we do workshops as well.

Aside from that, I’m … Millennial Branding, so that’s where I do a lot of speaking, and books, and spokesperson, deals with working with companies to get their message across to people my age. I’ve done a lot of media. I’ve written over 2,000 articles.

I’m somebody who has worked since I was 13. My first business was sophomore year of college. I had eight internships between high school and when I graduated college.

I worked for three and a half years at a company called EMC Corporation, which is now EMC Dell. Dell purchased them. I created the first ever social media position there that’s because outside of work I was really early into blogging. I started my own …, everything around personal branding.

Fast Company profiled me and through that EMC hired me internally for the social media position. If you go Twitter.com/EMC and Facebook.com and all those, I did all the original social media accounts back in 2007, so it was really early on in all of this. I’ve watched the whole thing play out.

Then over time, I’ve continued to write. My really true love is I like to focus on organizational behavior, how robots and humans collide in the workplace. I’m very interested in work culture and the labor market at a high level.

I like to see from a macro level what’s … in the economy, what’s happening in the world, are more people being hired, are people losing jobs because of technology, what do retentions rates look like, what – who’s hiring what?

I love all of that because from a high level I know what the market is, so I can give better advice from an individual level … invest their time, what they should major in, what skills they need to develop. But also more corporate standpoint, I understand what skills people have and what they’re looking for in their employers.

For instance, people my age, 34, or younger, they’re looking for flexibility in the workplace. Through the research, through conversations I have I’m able to make those recommendations.

The goal really, my mission is to help my generation through their whole career path from student to CEO. The first book, Me 2.0, helped them get from college to first job. The second book, Promote Yourself, is first job to management.

Then Back to Human is a leadership book for the generation because over … percent of people my age have a management title and above and about 5% have a director title and above, so to me this is the best time to help engage the next generation of …. And you know, for me, myself, I consider myself a leader in this space. I’ve been supporting this generation since the early days, the early 20s.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right, that’s plenty. What’s your book, Back to Human, all about here?

Dan Schawbel
The thesis is that technology has created the illusion of connection when in reality, … using or misusing it, we are isolating ourselves to a more lonely, less engaged, and less committed to our teams and organizations.

People can all relate to this. The average person checks their phone every 15 minutes. We tap our devices over 2,600 times a day. We’re constantly using the technology. We’re not even thinking about using it. You see this everywhere we go.

Now, even though the book hits technology really bad, it does it to make bigger points about how we’re using it and when we’re using it.

For instance, you could use technology in order to discover people who might live in your neighborhood or your city so you can connect with them, but when you connect with them try and do it in a meaningful way on the phone or in person so you get to really know someone and form a stronger bond.

This happens in the workplace too. If we’re constantly using and abusing technology and thinking it’s going to solve all of our problems, it’s really not. It’s going to actually isolate us and bring us further apart.

You cannot solve an argument between two employers by texting. That’s just not going to cut it. It creates misunderstanding. One, face-to-face interaction is more successful … 34 emails back and forth. Instead of emailing someone constantly, hoping they understand you and know what to do next, all you have to do is walk four feet and actually talk to that person.

Because of the overuse and misuse of technology in our society and in the workplace, people are using it as a crutch and avoiding face-to-face conversations that are necessary in order to establish relationships that are required for long-term success and happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you point to I guess a little bit of the mechanism or the line of causality or the evidence that says, that hey, this technology is in fact causing isolation and disengagement?

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, it’s actually in the study I did with Virgin Pulse of over 2000 managers and employees in 10 countries. We found that almost 50% of an employee’s day is spent using technology to communicate over in person. What’s happening with those employees is that they feel lonely … very often as a result of overusing that technology.

This is a big issue, especially in a world where … is much more dispersed. You have more people working from home than ever before. A third of the workforce works from home, but two-thirds of those people are disengaged because if you’re always working from home the whole time – and I work from home, it’s been almost eight years working from home you can become isolated and lonely because you’re not … human contact.

What’s really fascinating is we focused on all the benefits of working from home and … tons of research around the benefits that you get, the freedom of flexibility, you save commuting cost, but not enough people are talking about the drawbacks. The big drawback is that you feel isolated, lonely, and potentially disengaged.

We have bigger conversations around the full picture of this because sometimes people lie to themselves. They’re not consciously thinking about how working from home isolates them and impacts their health and wellbeing, which impacts productivity.

It’s like everyone talks about the glory of loving what you do and being passionate about what you do for work, but if you’re really passionate about what you do, it could become an addiction and actually isolate you from others because all you’re doing is work.

There’s the good and bad for everything. Part of what I want to do with this book is to reveal and make people more conscious of how and where they’re using technology and to try and make better decisions about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I guess what I’m wondering is the extent to which the working remotely thing is causality versus correlation in so far as some people who want to work from home are already, aren’t super attached to their coworkers. They won’t miss like, “Oh, I’m so sad that I will not see these people on a regular basis,” as opposed to it’s causing it like, “Oh man, I’m out of the loop.”

Are you talking about people who are working entirely remotely or sort of the once or twice a week work from home crowd?

Dan Schawbel
I’m talking about entirely working remote.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Dan Schawbel
If you work remote, you’re much less likely to want to long-term career at your company because you don’t have emotional attachment to the people you work with. You’re never there. You’re out of sight, you’re out of mind, which actually limits your career prospects.

It’s like Jack Welch used to always say when he was the CEO of GE, “Face time matters.” If you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. You’re less likely to get a promotion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you, so these are fully remote workers.

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, so I’m talking about a fully remote worker. A third of the population works remote always or very often. It’s happening. Look at a company like Aetna. Over half the workforce works remote full time.

Other companies fall into this as well. That’s why you see this big backlash too. You have Yahoo, BestBuy, Reddit and various other companies like Honeywell that have forced employees to come back into the office. Now, they’ve forced employees to come back to the office full time, whereas Aetna says, “Hey, you can work remote fulltime.”

What I’m saying is more or less what you’re … to get to is let’s … extremes here. Let’s kind of meet in the middle and let’s customize work based on your individual needs.

It’s crazy. I interviewed 100 young leaders for my book, at least … of them are having kids this year. There’s a million new Millennial moms per year. If you’re having kids, you need some degree of flexibility. As if someone’s single or someone’s older, the benefits they need and the work they want is going to be a little bit different.

You’re going to care much more about retirement benefits if you’re 60 than 23. You’re going to care about flexibility in some regard regardless of age, but if you’re younger maybe you want flexible hours or telecommunicating, where as if you’re older, you want some other degree of flexibility. Like if you have kids, you want parental/maternal leave. That’s becoming a really hot benefit for many. Netflix gives unlimited.

I think it depends where you are in your career lifecycle, what you’re looking for at that time, and what your needs are, and then having a company and a manger step up and really lead by exhibiting empathy and understanding your situation, trying to create a good situation for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Then digging into some of the content of the book, you sort of suggest starting off by focusing in on fulfillment. What does that mean and look like in practice and what are some of the alternatives that people focus on instead?

Dan Schawbel
Great question. Life is too short and … work too many hours not to be fulfilled at work. The average work week is 47 hours for a fulltime salaried employee and 43 for an hourly worker. We’re spending so much time at work.

Anytime I stand in front of an audience of 50 to 6,000 recently, I always say, “How many of you respond to work emails on vacation?” It’s like 99% say they do. We’re always kind of working now. There’s an expectation, especially in the United States, that we’re working 24/7, which can be unhealthy and lead to burnout.

But the reality is if you do not like your work or you have a toxic work environment, where you don’t get along with your colleagues and manager, it’s going to affect your personal life.

This is why I put such an emphasis on improving the workplace, making people have healthier work environments because if you don’t have a good employee experience, it’s bad for the company, and it could be bad for your relationship with the people you’re closest with because you’re going to be complaining about work outside of work all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Dan Schawbel
I put a huge emphasis on this. What I said in the book is you really have to focus on your fulfillment first. It’s like if you’re on a plane, they always say take care of yourself before you – if there’s going to be a crash, take care of yourself before your fellow passengers.

Same thing with fulfillment, you’ve got to get your stuff right because then you’ll be optimistic, you’ll be happy, you’ll be able to inspire and support people at a higher level. You’ve got to get your stuff right first before you help others.

The best way to start doing this is defining what makes you fulfilled. Think about what you’ve enjoyed in the past, what you think you’re good at, your values, what your previous accomplishments and experiments tell you. Really zone in on what you’re supposed to be ….

By the way, this doesn’t happen in one day. It’s not like you wake up and magically you know what makes you fulfilled. It’s being thoughtful. Taking notes. A lot of people keep journals now. I think that’s really smart, to write down how you feel when you do certain activities. Really narrowing that down is so important.

Then I think what happens in our society is people get distracted by technology. They get derailed from their own fulfillment. They try and live up to the expectations of others when we really have to take a step back and focus on ourselves and then our team second.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, a couple things I want to dig into there. One, I’m a sucker for data. That 47-hour figure, so this is in the United States, those who are full-time salaried position.

Dan Schawbel
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
So that does not include the commute. That is just straight up work time.

Dan Schawbel
Straight up work time.

Pete Mockaitis
… further.

Dan Schawbel
That’s by Gallup. That’s a Gallup study from 2014.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. I’m wondering if it’s the mean or the median, but I’ll look it up on my own. Either way, it’s striking. 47 is a lot more than 40.

Dan Schawbel
Oh here’s another one for you. A third of people work on weekends.

I’m a data nerd, by the way. I’ve reviewed – I’m getting closer to over 8,000 research reports since I was a recent college graduate, so I’m really invested in this.

I have catalogued all the research over the years because I’ll tell you why I like research so much because when I was younger, there was so much ageism because I had a career blog. People were like, “What do you know about having a great career? You’re 22!” I stated early. I learned how to – internships, get a job, sell myself, build my personal brand. I knew that all early on.

It’s still a lot of ageism. I used data in order to combat ageism. “Hey, you don’t believe me? I’m going to point to data that you trust, so you now … be more seriously.” I always use data as a way to deflect ageism.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Dan Schawbel
And then … 2012 I had a great opportunity to analyze four million Millennial Facebook profiles. That campaign went well. Then I’ve just been addicted to data ever since because it’s … almost like you’re an archeologist and you’re digging up the next dinosaur bone. For me it’s I want to find something new, discover it, and bring it into the world, and distribute it to others so it benefits them.

From a corporate standpoint, from an individual standpoint, I think data is extremely valuable in today’s society when everyone’s thinking about the ROI of everything and also just to really identify what’s really happening in the pulse of the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. I’m right with you there. I don’t remember who said it. I think it was when I was learning to become a consultant at Bain. They said, “The only thing you can really rely on to be heard and credible and persuasive when you look so young and don’t know diddly yet about the industry is a fact.”

It was like, “Yup,” sure enough, a fact is a fact. They go, “Huh, okay. Well then that’s something that we’re going to work with a little bit.” As opposed to your opinion and you’re pontificating on how things should be when you’re not yet trusted for your pontifications. So I’m right with you there on the data.

Tell me when it comes to focusing on fulfillment, could you maybe set a little bit of an expectation on the grand scheme of fulfillment, I think it’s fair to say that no job will fulfill your every wish, want, desire, and need for that to bring about fulfillment and happiness in your life.

At the same time, I think there’s plenty of room to keep the bar higher than, “Well, you know, it’s a job. It’s a job and they pay me.” What do you think is sort of acceptable and to expect from a career versus asking for too much or too little?

Dan Schawbel
What I would say is it’s trial and error. What’s really interesting that I’ve been thinking about over the past year is no one has this all figured out. We’re all tweaking our careers. We’re pivoting. We’re learning more about ourselves as we experience new jobs and new projects.

For me, it took me a while to figure out what my mission was. I started young, of course, that helped, but I didn’t really put all the pieces together in my head until maybe three years ago when I came up with my mission statement that I put on my website. I now say I love research more than anything else. That’s why I’m like the chief question officer in a way because that’s a really key part of research in many ways.

I think you identify what makes you fulfilled based on self-reflection, based on feedback from others, and just being around people who give candid feedback, not ones who are yes men or yes women, people who are going to be real honest with you.

When I interact with pretty successful people in my network, a lot of them don’t get the best advice and get the best feedback because they’re getting complimented all the time because they have leverage in their careers. I stand out because I’m willing to give them criticism in the most genuine way possible and because of my track record, they take it seriously. Then they’ll take some of that advice to heart ….

I think you just need the right people around you who are going to be honest and if they see you doing something wrong or they see you unhappy, to just have them be honest and be like, “Oh, I see that you’re unhappy. This is not exactly what you should be doing or how you’re doing it.” Sometimes you might be in the right position, but doing the work in the wrong way, which will turn you off from doing the work and make you feel unfulfilled.

A lot of people give up quick, especially in today’s society. Everyone wants instant gratification. They build up all of it in their head that this job is going to be perfect and they’re going to be so happy. They’re unwilling to work to ensure that they have maximized their day … fulfills their personal and professional needs and are fulfilled overall.

I think that you can’t just rely on the company to … fulfilled. You need to be responsible for doing that and working within your company to make that happen. That could mean doing projects outside of what you’re hired to do. It could mean that you change the nature of your work and working in a lounge versus a cubicle because maybe that gives you more inspiration.

It could be you changing how you get work done or who you work with. Maybe your group is not the right team for you at work as a leader. Maybe you need to manage a different team.

And things change too. What if your employee quits? Then you’ve got to hire someone else. Or what if you get laid off? Then you’re looking for another job and you’ve got to maybe reinvent yourself because people aren’t hiring those with your skillset that was valuable three years ago, but it’s not now.

It’s a constant work in progress. I think people should do their best. I think people should reflect often and surround themselves with people who will be candid with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, lovely. Thank you. I want to talk a little bit about some of your perspectives on how you’re doing the work. Let’s talk about the work/life balance. You say it’s a myth and we should look at work/life integration instead. What’s the full story here?

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, just based on how work is being done these days. It’s happening in the office. It’s happening remote. It’s happening in co-working spaces, at coffee shops. It’s all over the place. It’s very decentralized. It’s hard to know when to cut off work and when to do personal things. It’s becoming ever more blurred. But our personal and professional lives are very blurred because of technology.

Again, what I was saying before. It’s like you’re kind of always working even if you’re not at a physical office. Because of that we have to – we need a new solution because … is no longer effective like it was for our parents and our grandparents.

What we need to think of is work/life integration. Jeff Bezos calls this work/life harmony. The now former CEO of … when I interviewed her, she called this work/life integration as well and so has several other people in my network that I talked to because it’s all about taking the responsibility and accountability to say, “Okay, these are the five personal and professional things I need to do this day.”

Then carve out your schedule so you’re able to do those two, three, four, five things. It’s on you to figure out how to integrate the things that you need to do … fulfill you personally and professionally, not anyone else because only you know this. I think that’s really important.

Like for me, I’ll be doing this podcast and then in two hours I’m going to an event. I’m meeting friends there. Even though I’m going there for professional reasons, it’s also to be with my friends. Almost like as an excuse to see them. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to parley my personal and professional life together.

Like I’m going to LA and when I’m there I going to be doing some media for the book, but at the same time, I’ve already contacted some of my close friends who live there … dinners and lunches and get-togethers. So, it’s constantly figuring out how to make it work on a regular basis and blocking off times so that you’re fulfilled in both areas.

Pete Mockaitis
Any pro tips on any sort of powerful requests to make bosses or boundaries to set that for many people can make a world of difference?

Dan Schawbel
This needs to almost happen when you’re being interviewed. Just asking questions about from the employer’s standpoint, what are they looking for in work/life balance.

Then from the individual standpoint, just talking about the type of environment you work best in. If you really work well remote and then the hiring manager is like, “Well, we don’t let anyone work remote even for an hour here,” it’s probably not the company you want to work for.

It’s really having the conversations before you can start work so that once you know what you’re able to do and you accept that job, the expectations will hopefully be met. Rather than hoping it all works out when you already have a job, try and do it as early as possible in the hiring conversation.

If you already have a job and you’re like, “Okay, I’ve got to have this conversation,” it’s really about blocking off time with your manager and just seeing what the possibilities are and what the comfort level is. Because at Aetna for instance, they let employees work remote full-time, but they have to be at the office for the first six months to prove themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Dan Schawbel
You’ve got to earn the right to work remote full-time by showing that you can take the responsibility and do the work and deliver results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. I also want to get some of your takes on productivity, shared learning, optimal collaboration. Can you give us some of your favorite tips and do’s and don’ts in this world?

Dan Schawbel
Oh boy, this is a big one. The shared learning chapter is become very popular because I think there’s so much learning that needs to happen now. You look at the way skills are now, the average relevancy of a skill is only five years. In order to keep up with the fast-paced business world we live in, we have to rely and support each other by sharing what we know openly.

Being a hog of information is going to lead to a shorter-term career that’s not going to be as fulfilling. If you’re more open to share, and you’re more open to accept the knowledge that other people have and train them, but also ask for help, you’re more likely to succeed because everything is in real time right now.

Information is moving fast. Things are changing. Companies are being acquired, merged. There’s layoffs. There’s new skills that are entering the arena, like artificial intelligence skills. If you’re able to work as a team collectively and lead a team where people are just helping each other, that team is going to hold strong. They’ll have stronger relationships, which will lead to higher performance.

The other thing I’ll say is for optimizing your productivity, again, technology can be good or bad, but when it comes to optimization, you can do a lot of things that save time, like use conference room booking systems or even your own calendar to block off time on people’s schedules so that you have time to meet people, be prepared for meetings so that you can facilitate or catch up with your colleagues. I think that’s really important.

Like I was saying before with work/life integration, use your calendar to block off time for meals, time for breaks. For every 45 minutes or so of work, you should take a 10- to 15-minute break. That’s what the research shows. I think that you need to do what’s right for you, but there are certain best practices that can help you, like having … environment that’s optimized so that you avoid distractions and you can concentrate on the work at hand.

But then also getting out. A lot of people have lunch at their desk and they should be having lunch with their colleagues so they can form stronger relationships.

Again, this really has to do with the pressure that employees are being put on right now because people are working harder than ever before for no additional money, so there’s this constant anxiety that people have that they have to always be working. But that leads to burnout and lower productivity. So I would avoid that.

Instead, I would really think about how you can at least one or two times a week have lunch with your colleagues, just so they’re seeing you, they’re hearing you. You can bounce ideas off them. The best ideas that I always get are when I’m talking with other people. I literally get my best ideas in conversations.

If you’re staring at your computer all day, you’re probably not going to be as creative. But if you are in new surroundings with new, diverse people, it’s going to inspire you.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Dan Schawbel
I would say training people is really important. Sharing articles among your teammates. Anytime I see an article that would benefit my team with the artificial intelligence, I see it and I share it. I don’t even think twice because I know what my … want and I just keep delivering because then they’re going to be more prepared for their meetings.

Every morning I’ve had the same habit, which I think is extremely effective in what some of your listeners could take advantage of is I review all the latest research and trends in my own space every day. Then when I have meetings during the day or I’m speaking or I’m doing something, I’m or I’m … at things that I learned about four hours before.

I become extremely relevant because I’m always looking at these trends regularly. Things are changing so fast, so I almost can’t avoid doing that now. But by learning a lot, by sharing that knowledge and keeping up to the pace with things that are changing, you’re able to offer more, be more relevant, and smarter in your field.

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

Dan Schawbel
Yeah. I think what I’m trying to really do is make people more conscious of how they’re using technology, not disregard human interactions.

The biggest thing that gets in the way of person-to-person human interactions is email. We’re sending way too many emails. Many times it just doesn’t make sense. You see a lot of my friends, they have hundreds of emails they haven’t even answered, which many could have been avoided by just one phone call to be honest.

We’ve dropped phone calls. We’ve dropped voice mails all for texting. We’re sending so many texts every day and it’s not getting us anywhere. Not all progress is true progress in my opinion.

That’s not to say technology can’t be good. Early in my career, I used technology to forge an incredibly big, vast great network, but it wasn’t until I started to meet those individuals in person where the real relationships prospered and became something more noteworthy.

For this book, when I was interviewing … leaders, it started off as me interviewing them, then us having a Facebook group to just share updates, but then what I did was I used the Facebook group to meet them in person all across the country. They came on a book tour with me.

I think that is a good case of going back to human, where the technology was used in the right way. It’s used for initial contact and used in order to get everyone on the same page with … and same vision, and then using in-person conversations and phone calls to really get to know people … and go with them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Got you. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Dan Schawbel
I think the best quote in the book is “When you replace emotional connections with digital ones, you lose the sensation of being present and the feeling of being alive.” Other quotes that I really love that I said over the years are, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, and build your own future,” and “Invest in yourself before expecting others to invest in you.”

In terms of books, I’d recommend books that my friends … Dream Teams by Shane Snow, The Creative Curve by Alan Gannett, Superconnector by Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh. These are all people I know personally, so it’s easy to recommend books because you trust them and what they’ve written.

I would say for the biggest challenge is the next time you’re in a meeting, have you and your teammates all put their phone in the middle of the table for the entire session and see what happens when you do that. You’re going to see what conversations take place, see what ideas are brought to the – brought up. Take notes. Then compare that to a meeting where phones were accessible and people were using them.

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

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, you could go take the self-assessment that’s in the book. It’s called WorkConnectivityIndex.com. It measures the strength of your team relationships. You can also listen to my podcast, Five Questions with Dan Schawbel, where I interview all sorts of people from Condoleezza Rice to Ann Jones, Richard Branson and five questions in under ten minutes, so quick, but you learn a lot by listening.

For everything else you can buy Back to Human on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, your local bookstore. Go to DanScawbel.com to follow all my research and articles.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, Dan, thanks so much for taking this time and good luck with Back to Human and all that you’re up to here.

Dan Schawbel
Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

304: Resigning Perfectly with Joseph Liu

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Joseph Liu gives practical tips and guidelines for career transitioning, dealing with counteroffers, and avoiding burning professional bridges.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Key indicators that it’s time to resign.
  2. Why it matters to resign well
  3. Numerous reasons why NOT to accept a counteroffer

About Joseph

Joseph Liu is a career change consultant, certified coach, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, featured as a top business podcast for entrepreneurs in Forbes, the “best podcast for transitioning to a new career” in Glassdoor, and a top podcast to “help you find a job” in Business Insider. The podcast has listeners in over 100 countries and has received unanimous 5-star ratings, and has ranked as a Top 30 career podcast in the US & UK on Apple Podcasts. Tapping into my 10 years’ international corporate branding experience at Fortune 500 companies like Clorox & General Mills, Joseph now coaches professionals to change careers and relaunch their personal brands. He’s served as a speaker for various conferences and organisations including TEDx, MarketingWeek Live, London Business School, Cambridge Business School, Oxford Business School, and General Assembly. Joseph has also been featured in publications like Forbes, HuffPost, Fast Company, The Muse, Monster, SUCCESS Magazine, Credit Sesame, CEO Blog Nation, and Career Builder.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Joseph Liu Interview Transcript

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

Joseph Liu
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. Great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, I’m excited to dig into your perspective. We’re talking a bit about resigning and how that’s done well. When you quit medical school, I understand the first thing you did was go forth and teach salsa dance lessons. Tell us about that decision making process.

Joseph Liu
Yeah, that was the fun fact that came to mind for me, Pete, when you asked me that question before we hopped on this recording.

I guess I mentioned that because, yeah, you’re absolutely right. I resigned from medical school after two weeks at the Georgetown School of Medicine. That was one of my first big career pivots in my life. I’ve had a few. That was the first major one.

I guess I mentioned the salsa dance instructor thing for a couple of reasons. First, it’s just kind of a random thing that a lot of people don’t know about me. I taught at a Cuban night club in Washington, DC just to do something on the side just because I enjoyed salsa dancing. I also mention it just because that was a time in my life when I was really confused about my career.

I use that example a lot just to demonstrate to people that hey, it’s okay to go out there and explore a lot of different things even if that thing isn’t the exact direction you want to go with your career because you could uncover some other strengths or illuminate some other path that may not have been obvious if you had just stuck really close to home in your explorations.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. In your experience, did the salsa dance teaching sort of illuminate something for you?

Joseph Liu
You know, it did, but it was not something that I went into it thinking, Pete. It really just was the first time I was consistently up in front of a crowd with a microphone in my hand doing something that was new and something that required engaging an audience.

That was probably one of the first moments when I realized I actually enjoy public speaking because it wasn’t apparent to me. I’m actually quite a strong introvert myself, but that was a moment when I really felt like hey, this is something that I could enjoy doing and now I give talks and I do public speaking for a living. The seeds may have been planted from those first moments when I was holding that microphone.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. In your speeches, does some salsa come out from time to time to this ….

Joseph Liu
It doesn’t come up a whole lot. I talk mostly about personal branding and career change, but it does come up in the career change talks just to kind of show people that I’ve been on my own winding journey that hasn’t always been straightforward. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. You share a lot of this wisdom through your podcast, Career Relaunch. Sort of what’s the main vibe over there?

Joseph Liu
Yeah. Career Relaunch is a podcast that I started a couple of years ago, Pete, that is focused on sharing stories of people who have managed to reinvent themselves and to change careers.

I created it mostly as a point of inspiration and companionship for other people who have decided to step off the beaten path in their careers, whether that’s a major or minor career change, just because in both cases just from talking with a lot of people who have pivoted in their careers, it tends to be a very lonely, confusing journey.

Through these stories hopefully people are finding some points of reference that can help inform where they may want to take their career, but also just to remind them that there are other people out there who are going through the challenges of trying to make a switch in their career.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. I really want to talk about the specifics when it comes to resigning and how to do it smoothly and well. I discovered you from Mac Prichard’s podcast and I thought this was just such an important topic.

Could you maybe orient us a little bit in terms of the why it matters to resign well in terms of some might say, “Well, hey, you’re on your way out, whatever.” You’ve got a different take. Could you unpack that for us?

Joseph Liu
Yeah, sure. I think you’re absolutely right about the tendency for people to not care as much about how they behave on their way out the door. But in working with a lot of people who have left their jobs to do something else, time and time again what is very clear is that how you exit leaves a very long-lasting impression with your former colleagues and your former manager and your former company.

I actually think it matters a lot. I actually think it especially matters when you don’t have skin in the game how you behave because when you don’t have skin in the game, that’s actually very telling to others on who you are as a person. It tells people a lot about your actual character. It also tells people a lot about the type of professional you are.

I actually think that resigning is one of the most important things you’ll do in your career because so many things can go wrong and because it’s hard to do really well. I just know that a lot people don’t do it as well as they probably could.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you maybe paint a little picture for us in terms of an outstanding resignation and an abysmally comically bad resignation approach?

Joseph Liu
Yeah, there are a lot of different ways that you can resign from your job. There’s actually a Monster article about the seven ways you can resign from your job by Dominique Rodgers. They go through – she goes through a different range of ways that you can resign all the way from just bolting in and telling them you’re out of there to a more grateful, positive approach.

I guess to answer your first question, the best-in-class would be approaching it in a way that is very grateful and in a way that allows your manager to be in the loop on what your plans are as you’re in the process of resigning. I think there’s two p’s that I keep reminding people of when they’re trying to resign and number one is to be professional, number two is to be positive.

It means making the time to make the effort to meet with your manager in person. Making sure that your manager is the first person who hears this news. Letting them know you’re resigning, allowing them to understand that actually this is a very forward-looking decision. It’s not any gripe about the current situation or your current job even if that may be the case.

But to keep it positive and to focus on the fact that, “Hey, I’ve had a great time here. I’ve accepted a role at company X and this is my desired timing. I’m going to do everything I can to try to help facilitate the transition and hopefully to even onramp the next person who’s going to be following in my footsteps.”

It’s about letting people know with open communication, but also going the extra mile to let them know that, “Hey, during the remainder of my time here, I’m going to be giving it 100%. Here are some of my plans on how I’m going to transition in the next person and here’s some of my plans on how to make this transition smooth for you as a manager.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good, Joseph. I think we’re going to have some listeners going to the transcript like, “I want to use some of those exact words.” That was wonderful.

Joseph Liu
Right. Yeah. The flip side of that is not doing any of those things. It’s going in and in a very negative way just letting your manager know that you’re leaving and not giving any indication that you thought about how you’re going to leave, how to make it easy on the company – that’s still paying you, by the way – and just using it as a time to air grievances, which I just think lands very well with people.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I guess when it comes to grievances if there’s some helpful, actionable feedback elements that I guess in an exit interview and such those can emerge just fine. That’s – airing of grievances, I just can’t the – was it Seinfeld – is it Saturnalia or no that’s the Latin – that’s the Roman holiday.

Joseph Liu
Yeah, I’m not sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But they made a holiday where there’s an airing of grievances.

Joseph Liu
Oh right.

Pete Mockaitis
And the feats of strength.

Joseph Liu
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
As an alternative holiday. That’s what I’m chuckling at over here.

Joseph Liu
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Welcome to my brain, Joseph.

Joseph Liu
Right. I think it’s so tempting to go negative. I think it’s so much easier to go negative than it is to remain positive. It’s just probably just human behavior. I just don’t think in the long run, even though it may feel good, I don’t know if it serves you and it certainly doesn’t serve your goodwill that you have built up over time with the company you’re currently working for.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. I’d love to back it up just a little bit in terms of before we get to delivering the message.

Joseph Liu
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to just that internal thinking, pondering, decision making, what are some of the most reliable indicators you’ve observed amongst clients that says, “You know what? It’s likely that is in fact time to resign.”

Joseph Liu
Yeah. There’s probably – I guess the first thing I should say about that, Pete, is that resigning and the timing of your resignation is a very personal decision. Although I’m kind of going through this saying, hey, there’s like a textbook, best-in-class way to do this, it is a very personal journey that you’re on in your career.

You’ve got to decide at what point have you had enough and at what point do you want to throw in the towel. With that said, I think there are broadly three patterns that I see with people who get to the point where resigning makes sense.

The first one is just physical stress and exhaustion, so not feeling energized, never feeling like you’re in flow, feeling like you’re spending your evenings and your weekends recuperating from your day job.

The second one is just looking around the organization, not seeing another role that appeals to you. You might be in a place where you’re thinking, “Okay, I don’t like my current role. Is there something else that I could do? Would I want my manager’s job? Would I want my manager’s manager’s job?”

If you look left, right and upward in your organization and you don’t see anything that resonates with you, I think that’s another reason to maybe consider looking elsewhere.

The final one I think is when you’re day job starts to encroach on your personal happiness. I’ve had that happen to me in my career where my work wasn’t really energizing me and I dragged it home. I even remember going out to dinner once with my wife and she just had to stop me from complaining so much about my job. I was just dragging it into my personal life and my family life too much.

It was just – it was becoming hard for other people to be around me. Yeah, I think those are a few of the signs that I think are red flags.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s pretty clear certainly. Thank you. Then when it comes to doing a resignation, some wisdom would suggest that don’t leave a job until you’ve got another one lined up and it seems like that there are a few more shades of grey to that rule of thumb. Could you expand upon that a little bit?

Joseph Liu
Absolutely. You’re absolutely right about conventional wisdom saying that you should have a job lined up before you resign from your current job, which I think on the surface I actually – I see that does make sense in a lot of situations. First of all because, just practically speaking, you may not have the luxury of being able to take the risk of being unemployed for a while to try to find another job.

Then there’s also a lot of I guess conventional wisdom that says that you’re more employable when you are employed because you just look more attractive to hiring managers and recruiters. I get all that and I buy into that.

At the same time there are I think some hidden advantages to quitting before you have a job lined up. I’ve done this myself in my career. It’s uncomfortable but I think there’s probably a couple times when you may want to consider it, assuming that you can take the risk.

One is that you just may not have the headspace or the time or the capacity to be looking for another job outside of your day job. It could just be that your job is so demanding that you just don’t have the spare energy to do it effectively.

I hear that from a lot of my clients is that they just don’t have it in them to spend their evenings and weekends working on CVs and cover letters and resumes and applying to jobs. It’s hard to do. It’s a full time job. One advantage to resigning before you have something else lined up is just freeing up some time.

The other advantage, which I think is a little bit more subtle, is that sometimes if you’re in a job that is so draining on you or it makes you so unhappy, it can actually affect how you show up in hiring situations because you’re just so down about your current job and when you show up to recruit for another job, you just – people can tell you’re unhappy.

I think that that won’t serve you well as a candidate. I think people can sniff that out. I think you can come across as being someone who is really frustrated and who is desperate to get out and people can generally sniff out desperation. I think that makes you a less attractive candidate.

Pete Mockaitis
I see that indeed we got some real sort of counterbalancing forces to be weighed against each other. I’d like to get your take being up close and personal with a lot of clients and seeing how their paths unfold, what’s your view in terms of how true is it that one who is currently employed looks more attractive? Do you think it’s a little bit more attractive or a lot more attractive?

Joseph Liu
I actually do think it is more attractive. I think that it’s just the nature of recruitment.

I’ve spoken with plenty of recruiters. I’ve worked with recruiters both as a client and a candidate and yeah, in most cases it’s easier for a recruiter to present a candidate to their client who is currently gainfully employed and happy and knocking it out of the park and having accomplishment after accomplishment. Yeah, I do think it is actually slightly advantageous to be currently employed.

It also I think – I mentioned the other situation where it affects your confidence in a negative way. It can actually boost your confidence in a positive way if you’re currently very happy. People like confidence. I do think it’s an advantage. I just think it’s not a completely black and white issue.

I do think there are cases where – and I’ve had clients who are in this situation – where they just – they were not able to gain traction with the kind of radical career change they were trying to make, whether it’s starting their own business or their own side gig or just looking for another job. They just couldn’t do that search justice given the fact that their current job was such a drain on them.

I know I’m kind of – I’m kind of almost dodging the question.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh no, that’s fair.

Joseph Liu
But I think there’s a case for both.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s nuance there. No doubt.

Joseph Liu
Yeah, that’s a good word for it, Pete. It’s very nuanced. It’s a very grey situation.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m wondering if you were to leave a job before having another, is there a super cool experience or answer or explanation you could offer beyond “I just hated it there. I had to leave.” Like, “I was really interested in pursuing the technological disruptions associated with …. I had it in my heart for such a long time to do some service in impoverished, developing nations. I just had to make a go of it.”

I don’t know, is there sort of a good story or experience or explanation that can bridge the gap?

Joseph Liu
Well, I think again it’s always going to be – I think it’s always going to land better with people if you’re positive and forward-looking and talking about the upside of the opportunity in front of you versus what you’re trying to get away from.

I think as long as you don’t go into it talking about your gripes about your current organization, which sounds like – you’d be surprised that people do do that. I’ve had colleagues who when they exit, it’s like they are – they’re going out in a blaze of glory. They don’t try to make a professional exit. They’re actually – they’re quite unprofessional about it. This stuff does happen.

But I think – I don’t know. Best-in-class is probably talking about why you were very happy in your current role but for a variety of reasons in your life you’ve got some other priorities that have come up, this opportunity that has come up at this particular juncture in your life makes a lot of sense.

It’s nothing about your current organization that you’re trying to get away from. It’s just this is a really great opportunity that would be too good for you to turn down and so you’re going to go for it, but that you’ve had a really good experience there.

I think if you can give some combination of why the new experience has been – is going to be good for you and also why that doesn’t diminish any of your positive experiences at your current organization, I think that tends to land quite well.

Pete Mockaitis
Got it. It sounds like you’ve got a story or two in mind in terms of a blaze of glory and unprofessionalism, so maybe to have some laughs and that picture of what not to do, can you share one with us.

Joseph Liu
Yeah. I won’t say who this person is. I won’t even say the company I was at. I’m not giving an example of myself by the way.

I was working at a large blue-chip company where they hire best-in-class, like top marketers and the people who work there are very professional. But I remember somebody resigning and she – she actually had a one-month notice period, so I’m in the UK, where notice periods can be a little bit longer officially. Anywhere from one month to three months is quite standard.

During that last month she completely checked out, like she literally didn’t show up to work. When she was in meetings, she was very negative. She showed up late. She was badmouthing other people in the organization, gossiping a lot to the point where I basically just stayed away from her. I don’t think that when people resign that is that common, but it does happen.

It’s funny because we’re talking about this right now and she’s the first person that came to mind and that’s how I’ll always remember her. Even though we worked fine together on teams, I will always remember her for how she exited the company. I don’t think that’s the kind of legacy you want to leave with people.

People do remember you. People talk about first impressions. People also remember last impressions. That’s why this topic I think is so important.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. You share a little bit here we’re thinking about sort of the timeline. There’s the telltale signs to know it’s time to resign. Then later on there’s the actual announcement, having the boss be the first to know. Any key things you recommend doing in that in between zone, post decision and pre-announcement?

Joseph Liu
Yeah, that’s a really important period, Pete. I think it’s probably going to feel like one of the most awkward times in your career.

If you’re listening to this and you’re in that situation where you’ve decided to resign, but you haven’t actually formally resigned yet, just know that this is going to be as uncomfortable as you probably feel in a job because you’re going to feel like you’re hiding something. You’re going to feel like you’re not being forthcoming with your manager.

When they start talking about whatever it is, the upcoming meeting or the upcoming presentation they would like you to make or upcoming project planning, it’s hard to not spill the beans on this stuff.

With that in mind I think one thing you need to do before sharing your news is to absolutely keep it to yourself until you’re ready to share it with your manager. Literally do not share it and I mean it with literally no one else because the last thing you want to have happen is for your manager to hear this news from someone else in your organization. That’s not going to be good. You want to keep it to yourself.

Another piece of advice is more of an administrative one is just to make sure you review your work contract. This is coming up with somebody I know right now who is exiting from her organization but there are some legalities around the amount of time that she needs to be there. You need to understand your work contract before you promise a start date with your future employer.

You may also just want to understand the administrative side of things related to benefits and other sorts of admin details.

Then there’s just two other things I think are especially important.

One just doesn’t happen enough, which is to prepare some sort of a transition file so that when you go to your manager to resign, you go in with literally a document or at least something that you can verbalize that demonstrates that you have given some thought into how you’re going to exit gracefully and facilitate a smooth transition for the manager and the new hire that’s going to replace you.

That is golden if you do that. It just demonstrates that you really care about the origination. It leaves a really great positive impression.

Last thing I would say to do is just to make sure you’re solidifying your relationships. That means making sure that you’re staying in touch with the people who are not only on your team but also your crossfunctionals. Make sure you nurture those relationships because a couple things can happen after you resign that you could experience a little bit of disenfranchisement in the organization.

You also are going to be depending on those relationships to ensure a smooth exit out of the company. You want people on your side once they know that you’re no longer going to be part of the team.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to get some further detail when you talk about a transition plan or document. What are some great things that can go in it or action steps to volunteer to tackle to be the most delightful exiting employee possible?

Joseph Liu
Yeah, so this actually probably what I would consider simple to do but not always easy to do, which is – it’s literally a document. You can capture a few items on it.

Number one is project status. On your projects, where do they stand, what’s the situation on them, are they on track, are they behind, are they ahead of schedule. Just so somebody can glance just really quickly and understand what’s on your plate and how are all those projects going, what’s your role in those projects.

Along those lines, you also want to outline any sort of key issues or sticky situations that are either present in those projects right now or maybe coming down the pike.

You probably want to identify some key relationships so the document could include some of the key contacts you have in the organization, especially outside of your current functions, so cross functional relationships with people who have helped you get stuff done in the organization.

Then one more thing to keep in mind with that transition file is just key stakeholders on your projects, key decision makers related to your projects so that whoever looks at that transition file. This file is not only for your manager, it’s also for the incoming person who’s going to succeed you. It allows them to very quickly understand who they need to be building strong relationships especially when it comes to stakeholder management.

Those are just a few things like project status, key issues, relationships, stakeholders.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just sort of imagining this situation and seeing what would be the most helpful, possible thing you can do if I’m in the manager’s shoes here. I’m wondering, and this might be – this has pros and cons to it, so I’ll just throw it out. See how it goes. I’m wondering – if I’m the manager I thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to go through all of the headache associated with finding a person.”

I would kind of appreciate it if the exiting employee would volunteer to do some of that leg work, whether that’s in terms of writing up a job post or a job description or sifting through the hundreds of resumes to give me a more manageable dozens of resumes and that sort of thing.

The flip side though, they might say if you are not enthused about this role, do I want you kind of facing those who may replace you. I don’t know. What’s your take on this one?

Joseph Liu
That’s I think a great point, Pete. I should have mentioned that before, but I think that one thing you can also do in this meeting is just ask your manager, “Hey, what can I do to make your life easier over the next X number of weeks? Is there anything I can do to help?” Assuming that they perceive you as a professional individual, I think they’d be happy to have you involved with the hiring process.

I’ve had both happen to me personally in my career. I’ve had situations where my manager said, “Hey, could you lead the hiring process? You know what this role is about. You know what it takes to do well in this role. Can you actually interview your replacement?” which is kind of a weird surreal thing to be going through. But yeah, I think it can be really helpful because hiring is really time consuming.

Then I’ve had situations where people just – it’s just – I’m just not involved with that. I think both can happen. I don’t think it was probably – I don’t think people thought I was going to sabotage it or anything, but they just chose not to have me involved.

I think both can happen. I think ultimately it comes down to what your manager thinks is best. I think that’s the general principle is just whatever he or she thinks is best, I would go with that.

If they want you to be involved, I would treat it seriously. I would approach it professionally. I would hire someone as if you’re going to remain there. I think that’s a great way to go out if you’re willing to do that and invest the time. I think that would leave a really great positive last impression with people.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Now I’d like to speak to the fear here. You’ve really laid out a lovely set of things to do to exit gracefully and well, but nonetheless, I think that there is a not so rational part of us that still has this fear, like, “Oh, if I leave, they’re going to be disappointed in me. They’re going to be bitter toward me. They’re going to say terrible things about me. I’m going to be burning bridges. You’re dead to me, Joseph.”

Could you speak to that in terms of hey, if you do everything just right, what are the odds of that happening and how should we think about it?

Joseph Liu
Well, you just never really know with people, Pete. I would love to sit here and say, “Okay if you follow this step-by-step process, then you’re going to exit and everything is going to be great and everybody is going to be happy.” I think the reality is that in the world that people are human on both sides.

You mentioned this earlier; I think you’re absolutely right, I think the manager’s going to be a little freaked out. I think the moment you say, “I’m resigning,” I think the rest of it can be a little bit of a blur. Yeah, I say here get your transition file ready, but at the same time how much of that does the manager really absorb.

I’ve done that before with managers. By that point in time I’m handing over the document, they seem like that’s not what they want to look at at that very moment.

Yeah, I think there is a lot of emotion related to this. I think that it can go a couple ways. I think everybody can approach it professionally and I think that people cannot take things too personally. Your manager can want the best for you and once they hear that you are going off to a great opportunity they’ll be more than happy for you. They’ll even in fact do whatever they can to help you. I think that’s a great situation.

I think there are also situations where the manager is a little freaked out. They may not be upset at you, but they’re focused on trying to figure out how clean up what’s going to be a shortage of resource on their team.

Yeah, I think it’s very natural to go into one of these meetings and feel a little bit nervous about it. I know when I’ve done it in the past it’s been really nerve-racking. Literally my heart’s racing when I do this because you develop a good relationship with your manager. You don’t want to disappoint them. You don’t want to create a mess for them. At the same time you’ve got to think about what’s good for your own career.

Yeah, like I said earlier, I think resigning is a really emotional turning point in your career. It will feel heavy I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it’s a good indicator if your manager is feeling shell-shocked or stupefied as opposed to just like relieved and delighted, that means you’ve done something right.

Joseph Liu
Exactly. I always tell people try – people have different pieces of advice on this one, Pete, but my advice to people is I try to do this fairly early in the week and not do it on a Friday because you don’t want them thinking about this over the weekend.

You want to do this at a time when your manager can talk to whoever they need to talk to in the organization right away, figure out how they’re going to share the news. They probably are going to need to talk to HR. They’re not going to want to be thinking about this over the weekend. They want to be able to talk to people right away.

Yeah, I think it’s good to think about where your manager is at and the timing of when you do this. I think it matters. Catch them when they’ve got some headspace. There’s not going to be a perfect time but there will be better times.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. If you do find yourself handed a counteroffer upon you sharing your plans, boy what do you do with that?

Joseph Liu
Alright, so I have a very strong view on this Pete. I read all sorts of different articles with different pieces of advice on this. I just read an article actually yesterday about how to handle counteroffers.

I’m just shaking my head because my view in general, okay, I think there’s going to be exceptions to this, is to not take counteroffers. I’ll tell you why.

Because first of all one of the things I recommend to people just to preclude this from even happening is to just make sure you accept your role before – accept your future role before you resign from your current role. That just eliminates the possibility of you even taking a counteroffer.

But let’s say you’ve done that or let’s say you haven’t done that and somebody gives you a counteroffer which is likely going to happen. I think most managers find it very expensive to replace even non-outstanding employees. I would recommend don’t take it. There’s a few problems with taking counteroffers that can play out in the long run that might not be obvious in the short run.

The first problem is if you take a counteroffer, I’m just going to assume it’s some sort of financial counteroffer, it then becomes very clear that the only thing that’s keeping you at the organization is some incremental amount of money, which means that you’re basically motivated and driven by money. I don’t know if that’s the kind of personal brand you want to be building for yourself in the organization.

The next one, which is much more practical, is that if you take a counteroffer, it may keep you in the organization, it may sort of make you happier for the time being, but if you work in any sort of a large organization or established organization, they’re probably going to recalibrate your salary the next year just so you’re not wildly out of whack with other people in your same grade level or your same level in the organization.

I think that the final problem with it, which I think is the biggest problem, is that your goodwill in your organization may take a hit if you stay or let’s say you take the counteroffer. I think your goodwill in your organization is going to take a hit because people know now that you were thinking about leaving.

Now you’ve gone from being someone who’s, I don’t know, loyal to the organization and quite happy there to someone who thought about leaving and is now suddenly staying. People are unfortunately never going to look at you the same.

The way that pans out in practical terms is maybe you’re going to get passed up for a promotion that you would have been considered for if people didn’t know that you were thinking about leaving. In general, I think it doesn’t go well.

Also, I forget there’s one more thing that’s really important point that I thought of just now is if you have verbally accepted your new offer and then you renege saying that you’ve accepted a counteroffer, there’s a bridge you’ve definitely burnt at that point.

Pete Mockaitis

Right. Okay. That’s some mounting evidence. I want to follow up on that one thing you said in terms of if others realize you were considering other things and then you didn’t take them and you stuck around and your goodwill takes a hit. I guess, well, call me naïve, but I guess I’m thinking everybody at all times is always entertaining many offers.

Joseph Liu
Yeah, that’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe not hard offers like in hand written with dollar signs, but just the notion of fluidity and opportunity and how one as the CEO of one’s own career should kind of always have eyes open and awareness of opportunities, what’s out there and going.

Maybe that’s not as much the real world in terms of people’s perception of when other people do that, that’s bad news, but I just want to get your take on that one.

Joseph Liu
Yeah, I think that there are always exceptions to these rules. I think if – gosh, if your current employer comes back with an amazing counteroffer that you can’t turn down, okay yeah, maybe think about it.

But I guess the problem with that then is let’s say they do come back with something that is extremely compelling and extremely attractive and tempting. If I’m the employee, my question then is so it took me wanting to leave in order for you to offer these things to me. It just – I don’t know if that signals good things about your employer in that case. I think that – I think that won’t go well for you potentially in the future.

Let’s say you’re in a similar situation in the future where you’re unhappy with something, are you going to then have to try to pretend to resign again to get what you want? Me, personally, I think it’s problematic from all sorts of angles.

The other problem with it is that – and this is probably a more jaded view – but I think that what can happen is, okay, like what you mentioned, you take the counteroffer and maybe people perceive you as someone who is just kind of going with the punches, is adapting to a new situation and so you decide that you’re going to stay and you’re just making that decision because it seems attractive to stay.

There could be people out there also who think that you were saying you were going to resign just to get these additional benefits. I think that that is again, more of a – I guess more of a sinister view on it.

But I think that you risk at least being perceived as somebody who said you had an offer elsewhere as a way of threatening people, as some sort of ultimatum to get what you want at your organization. I think that doesn’t serve your personal brand very well.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. Tell me, Joseph, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Joseph Liu

Well, I think that I’ll just mention that I think it’s really good we’re talking about this topic because I think so much is talked about related to your first 90 days and I think that’s really important, but, again, I think that at least for me whenever I’ve left a job behind I try to remind myself of two things.

One is that final impressions really do matter a lot when it comes to your professional reputation and your legacy.

And I also just remind myself that I’m still working for this company. I think sometimes we can get a little arrogant the moment we have another offer lined up. I think it’s important to be modest and just remember, hey, this is your employer who is still paying your bills and stuff and so you really should give 100% from the moment you resign all the way to your last day there.

I’m not saying do more than 100% or less than 100%. I’m just saying do 100%, do your job, do it well, and I think if you do that, you’ll exit in a good manner.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. Lovely. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Joseph Liu
Yeah. One of my favorite quotes is related to persistence. I’ll just read it off to you. This is a quote from Jacob Riis.

“When nothing seems to help I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps 100 times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at 101st blow it will split in two and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

I love that quote, Pete, because it’s just a reminder to me, sometimes I get a little frustrated because I’m not making as much progress with stuff as I want to, especially related to – I don’t know – career or life goals, things like that. Things just don’t tend to move along as quickly as I ever want them to.

I just try to remind myself that all this work that you’re putting in to whatever you’re working toward, you’re just planting seeds and sometimes it just takes a while for those seeds to grow.

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

Joseph Liu
I hate to talk about one of my own little projects here, but I actually find that the stories from the people who are on my podcast are really helpful to me also because these are real people making real changes.

I talk about career change on my podcast. But it’s quite meta for me because I’ve recently made a career change myself leaving the corporate world to start my own business.

I find it very educational to just hear not only about people’s success stories, but their actual challenges and their emotional struggles and the loneliness and the self-doubt that they dealt with along the way because I think that it’s just a nice reminder for me to know that most of the things you do in life are – if they’re worthwhile, they’re going to be difficult because if they weren’t difficult, everybody would be doing them.

I take a lot of notes when I’m hearing other people’s stories when they’re navigating something that I care about.

[39:00]

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Joseph Liu
Great by Choice by Jim Collins. That is a fantastic book.

It’s basically a book – he writes a lot of business books and this one is about comparing companies or teams that succeed to companies or teams that don’t succeed. There’s just some really great concept in that book that you can apply to your own life and your own career.

If you do check out the book, I’d recommend you – if you read one chapter, read the one about the 20-mile march, which is about just putting in a certain amount of work every single day to eventually get where you want to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. That’s good. And co-author Morton Hansen from episode 278, so good.

Joseph Liu
Oh right.

Pete Mockaitis
Sharp guys teaming up there.

Joseph Liu
Yeah, yeah.

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

Joseph Liu
I actually – a couple of years ago I spend a lot of time looking at a whole bunch of different tools to help me be more efficient because I just felt like I was so scattered with all the different things I had going on. I’ll mention a couple here if that’s okay. The first one is Trello. Have you heard of that or used that?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve used Trello. Yeah.

Joseph Liu
Yeah, Trello’s great. It’s basically like a virtual post it note app you can use on your desktop, your mobile phone. It’s just a great way of organizing projects. I use them for work flow for my own podcast. I just like the visual nature of it.

Wunderlist is my go-to checklist program. I like it just because it’s multi-platform. I can organize things by topic. I can set deadlines. It’s simple. Love that.

Then I use Dropbox for pretty much every single one of my projects where I’m working with different freelancers or suppliers in different parts of the world. Yeah, Trello, Wunderlist and Dropbox.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite habit, something that you do regularly that helps you be awesome?

Joseph Liu
Well, I don’t know if it – I don’t know if I would consider myself an awesome person, but –

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I do, Joseph.  I do.

Joseph Liu
But okay, I’ll give myself that label temporarily. I would actually say that taking the time to take care of yourself is really important.

I mention that one not because I think I’d do it well necessarily but because it’s actually something I struggled with for a while, self-care and making sure that I take breaks from my work. Now I’m doing a lot more of that and I am noticing how it really affects my energy and my ability to bring 100% to every other aspect of my life.

Just to get really specific, I try to make sure that I’m doing some exercise every day. Today I went swimming. It doesn’t take forever. It takes 20 minutes to do that, but I am left feeling really energized the rest of the day and it helps me bring more energy to relationships, to my work, to being a father, to really everything in my life. Yeah, I think make sure you take care of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget or piece that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Joseph Liu
Yeah, I think the one that comes up most often is this idea that you have to let go of one thing to make room for something else in your life. I think I mention that just because I think a lot of times especially when it comes to careers people want to try to have everything. That can be quite paralyzing because it’s hard to have everything.

I think career pivots are about choices and it’s about tradeoffs. It’s about deciding what’s the most important thing to you, but also realizing that you’ve got a finite amount of space in your life, in your career. You will have to let go of something in order to make room for something else.

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

Joseph Liu
Yeah, so they can go to my website, which is JosephPLiu.com. There they can learn more about my speaking and workshops and my online courses and also my Career Relaunch podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, and do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Joseph Liu
Well, I would just say that it is worth investing the time to find meaningful work in your life. I think you can find meaningful work. I would just challenge you to invest the time necessary in understanding what sort of work allows you to make the most of who you are. I think if you can figure that out, then you can be awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, Joseph, this has been so much fun. Thank you for taking this time and good luck with the Career Relaunch podcast and all the good stuff you’re doing.

Joseph Liu
Alright, well, thanks so much Pete and it’s been great talking to you.

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

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Julie

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

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

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Julie Forman Interview Transcript

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, let’s hear that.

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, so it’s in process as we speak?

Julie Forman

It’s in process, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And how about a favorite tool?

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. And does it actually stick to the desk?

Julie Forman

It does, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

It does, definitely. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool, alright. And how about a favorite habit?

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman
Excellent, thank you so much.