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KF #27. Resourcefulness Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

686: How to Make Your Next Career Move Your Best Move with Kimberly Cummings

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Kimberly Cummings shares her top tips on how to make career transitions easier.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make the next best move for your career
  2. The key indicators that it’s time to explore other options
  3. How to identify power players–and become one yourself 

 

About Kimberly

Kimberly B. Cummings is a leading career and leadership development expert and an accomplished speaker and podcast host whose mission is to empower women and people of color in the workplace. Her personal and professional development company, Manifest Yourself, LLC, provides in-person and virtual workshops, trainings, and coaching to professionals looking to lead a dynamic career and life. 

Kimberly has had the opportunity to speak to and create workshops for many organizations, including the New Jersey Conference for Women, Ellevate Network, Urban League, Princeton University and National Sales Network, SXSW, among others. She is also on the Board of Directors for The Power of You Teens organization. Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning into a Career You’ll Love is her first book. 

Resources Mentioned

Kimberly Cummings Interview Transcript

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

Kimberly Cummings
Thank you so much for having me. Very excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I want to hear a little bit about how you’ve studied vocal jazz for 10 years. What’s the story here? And any interesting adventures come from that?

Kimberly Cummings
So, definitely, I think growing up, I was a kid who always liked to sing. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “Whitney Houston.” That’s what I thought was going to be the career path for me, and I took piano lessons for a bit but I kept on trying to sing. But piano takes a little bit more skill to kind of learn the chords and all those things. My voice clearly was much more advanced than my hands were so I went to vocal lessons. And, oh, my gosh, I absolutely loved it, all the great Ella Fitzgeralds, the Sarah Vaughans. I actually performed a 26-song concert in 2005 to raise money for kids.

Pete Mockaitis
Twenty-six songs.

Kimberly Cummings
Yup, I had a pop set and a jazz set. And I say that I’m retired after winning every talent show in undergrad, mind you. I retired. So, now, I only sing for folks who know that I sing. Sadly, it’s more funerals or weddings and things like that. But you can hear me in the shower or in the elevator. There’s great acoustics there too.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you sing in your speaking on stage?

Kimberly Cummings
Oh, no. I’m fully retired.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so there we are. So, you’ve retired and you’ve moved on into the world of career and leadership development. So, yeah, tell me, when it comes to people and their careers, often you end up working with folks who feel stuck. What leads to people feeling stuck in their careers?

Kimberly Cummings
Many times, I really believe it’s not having a plan. If you don’t have a plan to take yourself to the next level, it’s very easy to get stuck in your career. Not knowing what your next move is, not understanding what your own skills and strengths and how those manifests in the workplace, a lot of times people can find themselves being underemployed or unappreciated because they have no idea, they’re essentially treating jobs like old boyfriends or girlfriends, romantic partners, in that they’re just like they keep going on to the next. They get a little bored, they go to the next, they go to the next, hoping that it will get better and better and better and it never really does if you don’t have a plan in place to make strategic career moves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then when it comes to forming that plan, where do you recommend we start?

Kimberly Cummings
So, the first stop is really understanding your own skillset and your strengths. I like to have folks who work with me go through a full assessment of all of their strengths, all of their opportunities, all of their weaknesses, their gaps, and really get clear on, “What are the skills that they’ve gained from every single job that they’ve had?” Every single job. That long resume that no one really ever looks at, the one you probably can’t even send to anyone that has every job on there and literally look back and say, “What have you learned? What are your strengths? What are the things you want to continue to use?”

“And what are the things that you no longer want to use? And how can we start to build a career based upon your strengths? And if you don’t have the strengths that you need to get to the next area, what are the things that we need to work on? What are the gaps that we need to attack in order to make your next move?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, you mentioned a full assessment. What are some of the key tools or resources or questions or things folks work through to get that picture?

Kimberly Cummings
So, the assessment really begins with you. Where are you? What have you done? What are the key skills you’ve gained from all of your jobs? What is the feedback that you’ve consistently been receiving from leaders? And if you don’t have that feedback, we walk through how to get that feedback using a simple start-stop-continue exercise with people in your industry and people who worked with you.

Of course, there are traditional assessments we can do. I’m a big fan of StrengthsFinder or Strengths Profile by Cappfinity. Those are also great as well but I want the baseline to always be the experiences because, generally, where you’ve gained your experiences, how you gained your experiences, what you’re taking away in terms of skill sets and strengths, that’s the baseline for you making your next move. So, the assessment really focuses on where you’ve been and what you’ve learned.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you talked about how to get that feedback. So, start-stop-continue is a good way to organize the conversation. But how do you recommend folks specifically say, “Hey, tell me what I should start, stop, and continue doing?” Or, how do you recommend approaching that?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I always recommend finding time to have career conversations with your management. Many times, folks have one-on-ones, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or team meetings, and those are focused on doing the work but career conversations are a little bit different. So, I always recommend that people reach out to their leader, and ask, “Hey, I’d love to have a one-on-one with you but focused on my career.” And ask them simple questions like, “What is it that I should continue to do in my role? What are you seeing as good skill sets that I’m building? What do I need to stop doing? What is going to prevent me from moving to the next level? And what do you need to see more of?”

And the big question I always ask for folks who are thinking about making their next move before it’s time for them to make their next move is the big question of, “What do you need to see from me in order to know that I’m ready to get to the next level, I’m ready to make the next move?” so you’re not asking that question when you’re applying for the new job. You want to ask that question well before it’s time for you to have to apply.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a fine question. And, yeah, as I imagine that scenario, I think there’s probably any number of unsatisfying answers you might get, like, “Oh, you’re great. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Kimberly Cummings
That’s a fan favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not quite the right…that’s not helpful.

Kimberly Cummings
No, not at all.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do you recommend pushing or digging a little more?

Kimberly Cummings
Now, 100% just like you said, that is the age-old, “Oh, my gosh, you’re fabulous. Things are great. End time.” It’s like, no. If you’re not getting good feedback from your leader, I recommend asking other folks, asking your peers, asking other people who’ve also been promoted, and sharing your experiences so they can share a little bit more insight on what it takes to move to that next level.

And then, also, honestly, having a candid conversation advocating for yourself, like, “Thank you so much. I love hearing that you think I’m doing really, really well. However, I want to make sure that I can be extremely planful, that I actually have a plan. Is there any direct feedback that you’d be able to provide me? Like, what is it that means that I’m doing really well? How do you know that I’m doing really well? What are the indicators for that?”

Or, even if you could call up someone else, like, “I saw that Joe got promoted last year into a similar role. What was it that made you know that Joe was ready?” Try and push back to advocate for yourself just a little bit more because feedback is hard. It’s very hard. Leaders don’t like it, employees don’t like it, so it’s really pushing the needle. And if they say that they need a little bit of time to think about it, make sure you circle back and push again.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I think that is the perfect response along those lines of, “Oh, you’re great. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” It’s like, “Well, I couldn’t help but notice I wasn’t promoted,” in the nice or professional diplomatic way that you get there because, yeah, those are the realities, is that there is something…well, unless the organization is just broken, which I’ve seen some of. There is something that causes people to move up, “What is it? And am I doing it? And how can I do more of it?” Perfect.

And then you mentioned doing this prior to when you start applying to other jobs because you’re ready to be out of there. What are some of the key indicators that it may, indeed, be appropriate to move on and out from a current role or organization?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I’m really big on role mastery and impact. So, when you have essentially mastered your role, when you are doing things with ease, when people are asking for assistance because you know that you have it down, when you’ve built relationships in your role so you have…I always talk about four key relationships that you need. So, you have great peers that you’ve networked with, you have teachers who can help you if you need help, or sometimes people call them coaches, and you have mentors, and you have sponsorships. You have those four key relationships.

If you know where your role fits within an organization, like, “What does your role do?” Every role has a purpose in helping the company reach some type of milestone, even if you feel like it’s a small piece. Like, there’s a reason why that role was hired. Once you really know those things and you could think about, “What is the value you contributed to that role? Have you been able to innovate? Have you been able to move the needle?” Once you’ve been able to do some of those things, then it’s time to start thinking like, “Okay. Well, I think it’s time I start exploring whatever the next move is in this role, whether it’s internal to the company or external.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then if we are looking to transition away, what are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Kimberly Cummings
The most common mistakes I see are people relying on the amount of time that they’ve been at the company. Many times, people are like, “Oh, I’ve been here a year,” or, “I’ve been here two years. It’s time for me.” It’s like, “No, there’s people who’ve been in roles for 10 years who still aren’t ready.” The reality is you have to make an impact. You have to articulate value and what you’re going to do moving into that area.

And I’m not sure what your feedback is on what I’m about to say next, but I think that, many times people want to not do a tinge more work to showcase that they’re ready for the next role, especially for folks who are moving internally. They’re a manager, want to be a director. An analyst, want to be a manager. Whatever it is.

But what I explain to folks is that in your role, you’re essentially in a box. Like, this is the role of the manager. You’re doing everything that needs to be done within this box. When you’re ready to move to the next box of the director, you have to showcase that you’re ready to leave that box to go to the next level. And in order to showcase that, you almost have to show people like a little bit. Give them a touch of what they’ll see from you as a director. And it’s important that you start doing a few of those things, making sure that you’re aligning more to a director role than you are to a manager role so people can literally see you in it.

A lot of times, when there’s a job search that’s happening, I used to work in talent acquisition as well, and when you have someone who is internal applying to a job, and you have someone also who’s external, the internal person, you’ve essentially been in the longest interview of your life. They see you every single day. They know you. And if they have questions, like, “Well, why didn’t so-and-so start doing this already? Well, l really don’t see them doing this. They’re doing so well in their current role.”

Versus an external person can come in and just sell them the world because they don’t know them, they’ve never seen their work, and they can easily align to that director role. So, I think it’s really important that when you’re thinking about moving, you start thinking a little bit more on the level you’d like to be on versus the level that you’re currently at.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And, well, if you wanted my feedback on what you said with regard to doing a touch more work, I think that’s the right answer to advance in your career. But I think it’s also true, what you said is that a lot of people don’t want to do it, yeah, because it’s like, “Well, I’m not getting paid for that. I don’t have the title. It’s like they’re not paying me to do that, so it’s unfair or not justified in the give-and-take relationship between me and employer to do that while being paid what I’m currently paid.”

But what I’ve seen is that frequently your fastest movers and shakers are already doing the next job, and the promotion is kind of a formality, like, “Hey, you’re already doing this. We’d be embarrassed if we didn’t give you the title or the raise, promotion, etc. associated with that.” So, yeah, I think that’s kind of how it shakes out.

Kimberly Cummings
Oh, God, I’m happy we’re aligned there because some folks are like, “Nuh-uh, don’t give them a preview till you get the paycheck,” and I’m like, “Nah, you get the paycheck when you give them a preview.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. Indeed. And so then, when it comes to the networking world, you’ve got some perspective on identifying power players. Can you tell us how do we find them and build great relationships with them?

Kimberly Cummings
So, in every industry, I strongly believe that there are power players. They are people who are at the head of the curve, the people who are the key stakeholders who everyone listens to. There are always a few key people that are great to really look at as sponsors in your network. So, the way I always try to identify them are looking up professional associations. Who’s speaking at the conferences?

If you’re at the conferences, virtual or in person, whose room is packed out every single time? Who is it that has your boss’ ear or your skip leader? Who’s the person who really has the power to make the decisions and you see being frequently called upon? Those are what I call the power players, the people where a business doesn’t happen unless you hear from them first, where they have a significant influence over whatever is happening in the workplace.

When we’re talking about power players, one of the key words there is influence. Same thing with sponsors. They have to be able to influence and impact change. Otherwise, they really aren’t a power player in the industry. So, when you start seeing people speaking at events, or people always tapping that person, you know that person has power in the workplace. And my key is always finding a way to get in the room with them. How can you get as close as possible, again, virtual or in person?

I think you could still do it virtually. In some respects, virtual can even be a little bit easier than trying to navigate yourself into a room in person. But find a way to get in the room. And whether it’s interacting with that individual at the event, even as simple as asking a really great question, or being super active in the virtual chat. Find a way to get involved with that power player and initiate some time, whether it’s a 15-minute meeting to introduce yourself, learn more about them, or attending quite a few events.

If I’m very honest, there are some people who I have relationships with now where it took me years to build a relationship. It wasn’t one time to get on their radar. It was multiple events, multiple things before I reached out and got any individual time with that person. I think, especially when you’re looking for someone who has influence, it’s going to take some time. It’s not going to be a quick one, two, three the first time you try to hear back.

And if you can’t get in touch with that person, I recommend also looking at who’s around them. So, let’s say there is a senior SVP in your workplace and you want to get in touch with them but you know you have not had any luck on getting on their calendar. Well, then who are their direct reports? Let’s see if we can get in contact with them and work your way around, so the next time when you try, you already have some relationships that are close and someone else who can refer you or make an introduction. Sometimes it takes a little bit more time to get that power player.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so then, so you stick with it and you keep your eyes open. You ask for those recommendations and you’re watching. And then how do you yourself become such a power player?

Kimberly Cummings
Again, I think that’s so much about impact and value. It’s about being a subject matter expert, being the SME in your area. Many times, people believe that leaders have to have this big title, they have to be the SVP, the director, the super long title that is confusing, and you can barely say it yourself. But I really believe that everybody has the ability to be a leader.

You are hired for any particular role. That role has tasks and responsibilities. Regardless of your seniority, you need to be the subject matter expert for your role. Nobody needs to do that role better than you are doing that role. You have to lead in that role. When you are leading in your role, so you’ve mastered it, you are the person who they come to for questions or concerns, you have networked yourself appropriately so people also know that you are the best at that role.

You’re not just behind closed doors or in your virtual office, not speaking to anyone. That’s really how you can start positioning yourself as the go-to person and, ultimately, positioning yourself as a leader or the power player in your area. And, also, having that strategy, so knowing what’s next, which means having some of those tough career conversations even if your leader isn’t kind of giving you what you need, making sure that you kind of push forward or find someone else who can give you that feedback.

Having that strategy so you can continuously be evolving your career and moving to the next level, that will slowly but surely be able to position you. And, you know, for some folks, it takes time. For me, even thinking about my own career, for a long time, my goal was to be a director of career services in higher education. I spent nearly 10 years in career services offices working with people at 18 who don’t know what they want to do with their entire life, to people who are in their 60s who want to use all their experience and use that to kind of launch into something that just makes them happy in the world of work.

And I wanted to just be a director of career services running a large office. That was it. And I knew that in order to move to the next level, this wasn’t an arena where I’d be able to stay in one office unless I wanted to stay in one office for like 10 to 15 years to slowly work my way up. So, every two years, I made sure I knew what my next move was, I understood the skills that I needed to gain with each strategic move in order to build a career for myself, and also increase my influence.

I participated in conferences. I spoke at conferences. I always made sure I was able to level up in my career. And, ultimately, I did not get that director of career services job, but I became a director in a global Fortune 100 company in financial services leading some of their diversity talent acquisition recruitment efforts. So, you just have to make sure that you’re continuously leveling up and having a strategy for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thanks for sharing your story there. And could you share also the story of someone you think did a fine job of kind of integrating all of these learnings and seen some cool results?

Kimberly Cummings
Definitely, success stories. Like, everyone always loves success stories. I have a current client who I was working with who came to me because they were feeling stuck, they’re in one of those jobs that we talked about earlier, Pete, where they were just kind of over it. They felt underemployed, definitely underpaid, and they really wanted to start positioning themselves for leadership roles.

Then when we first started working together, she just wanted to get on track. So, we went through the assessment, we went through kind of understanding all of the skillsets, was she in a career that was aligned to what her goals were. And at that time, she was but she didn’t have the level of seniority that she wanted. She didn’t have the impact that she was looking for.

So, for that particular person, we worked a lot on the relationships. How can we start making sure people know about the work that she’s doing, networking, cultivating some of those sponsors, some of those mentors? And, in about three to six months, I think probably around the five-month mark, if I have my memory serves me right, she’d been applying to jobs and she finally landed a role.

And because she’d done so much work with building relationships, understanding her own personal and professional brand, she rocked this interview process, making sure that she was finally positioned for a role. A lot of it was the language she was using to make sure that she was no longer underemployed and being in a role that was in much better alignment.

She negotiated a $35,000 salary increase. She got added to a committee right away that was aligned with some of her career goals. And she was able to speak a lot about career pathing even in her interview process, so she knew what would be the next step for her, being very candid about looking for longevity in an employer and not just for a defined role.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, thank you.

Kimberly Cummings
No problem.

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

Kimberly Cummings
No, I think this is good. I think you had me cover it all. I love how actionable all of our questions are.

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

Kimberly Cummings
Yes. So, there’s a quote by India Arie. It is, “The only thing constant in this world is change.” I put it in my high school yearbook, and I think it’s so, so, so true.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Kimberly Cummings
I really like the research on diversity, equity, and inclusion when it comes to privilege. I’ve been doing a lot of research on that, kind of looking into more of the privilege walks. I know Drexel has a lot of information on that arena.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Kimberly Cummings
So, my new favorite book is Winning is Everything by Tim S. Grover.

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

Kimberly Cummings
I think StrengthsFinder, the assessment, is one of my favorites. It helps you understand yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Kimberly Cummings
I live and die by a planner and a task-list system that I use. I have it every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m now intrigued. What’s the system?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I use Asana but better than that, I really do it in my notebook every single day. I prioritize my tasks by functional area, and for my business, by revenue impact in order of importance. I have a little color code system too. I’ll have to take a screenshot for you, but it helps me knock out even more every single day by having all those priorities in line and make sure that I’m working on what actually needs to get done versus the mini-tasks that we do all day that keep us from doing the big thing that we should be doing.

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

Kimberly Cummings
A lot of it is around confidence. I think I have a quote from my business, my manifesto that I always share. It’s, “You must believe in yourself and your vision. When you do this, you’ll manifest the life you desire.” And I share this a lot because when we’re trying to make any type of career change, I think the number one thing you have to do before we get into all the strategy pieces is believe that it’s actually possible for you.

And a lot of times, when we start talking about that, people are like, “Oh, my gosh, like that really resonates. Like, I didn’t even think that that was important. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been moving.” It’s, like, you have to believe that whatever you want to do is possible for you.

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

Kimberly Cummings
I would point them to KimberlyBCummings.com. I’m also on all the social places. So, Instagram and LinkedIn are probably my favorite. LinkedIn, it’s my name, and Instagram is kimbcummings.

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

Kimberly Cummings
Yes. So, shameless plug or not so shameless because you said I can share. But I’m a very brand-new author. So, in June 2021, I wrote a book Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love and it is available wherever books are sold. And this is the process to help you put together a two-year career strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kimberly, thank you. This has been a treat and I wish you lots of luck in each of your moves.

Kimberly Cummings
Thank you so much.

684: Achieving More by Tapping into the Science of Less with Leidy Klotz

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Leidy Klotz reveals how to access the untapped potential of subtraction to make work and life more efficient.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What Legos can teach us about smarter problem-solving
  2. The trick to overcoming your brain’s bias for addition
  3. How subtracting leaves us with more

About Leidy

Leidy Klotz is a Professor at the University of Virginia, where he directs the university’s Convergent Behavioral Science Initiative and is appointed in the Schools of Engineering, Architecture, and Business. His research on the science of problem-solving has appeared in both Nature and Science and has been covered in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post among national newspapers on five continents. 

Resources Mentioned

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  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome 

Leidy Klotz Interview Transcript

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

Leidy Klotz
Thanks for having me, Pete. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom you’ve put forth in your book Subtract. So, why don’t we kick it off by you telling us the story of your epiphany that occurred with Legos?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, the epiphany courtesy of my three-year old at the time, so I was playing Legos with my son and the problem that we had was that we were building a Lego bridge and it wasn’t level. And so, one of the columns was shorter than the other column. I turned around behind me to grab a block to add to the shorter column. By the time I had turned back around, my son had removed a block from the longer column. And that right there in front of me was this kind of thought process that I became interested in. And we’ve since done tens thousands of hours’ worth of research, studying and trying to figure out what was going on there.

But what was really helpful for me with that moment with the Legos, with my son, was that I’d always been interested in less, kind of this end state of things that are better because there’s less to them. But what he helped me see in that moment was this act of getting there, subtracting, and he also helped me see it in a very tangible way, in a way that I could actually go around and even show other people and describe my thoughts to other people. So, that proved really helpful as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Yes, three-year olds, I’ve got one as well and they teach you much. So, that’s wild how that sparks such a long journey, and it’s cool that we don’t stop there with a nice little metaphor. You got a boatload of research now to back it up. So, can you tell us then, while that’s kind of an interesting way to think a little bit differently, what’s sort at stake or the benefits associated with pursuing subtracting as opposed to adding?

Leidy Klotz
Fundamentally, what’s at stake here is that it’s a basic option that we have to make things better. Whether we’re creating a Lego structure, or whether we’re trying to improve our daily task list, whether we’re trying to improve the thoughts that are in our head, we can add things to them and we can also take things away.

And what I did in that moment was I didn’t even think about taking away as an option, and I would’ve added and moved on, never even considering if I wanted to subtract in that moment if not for being shown the other way by my son. And so, that’s the problem. The problem is that we’re not considering the options. The problem is not that less is always better. In fact, I quite like adding, but I think that anytime that we’re systematically overlooking a basic way to change things, that’s a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. Doubling our options sounds handy for sure. Could you share with us maybe some cool case studies in terms of professionals who’d done some subtracting and seen some really cool results and benefits?

Leidy Klotz
So, the downside is that we systematically underuse it. The upside is we don’t have to, and because everybody else is systematically underusing, there’s kind of additional power in taking things away. This is an untapped opportunity. And so, I think you see it everywhere really. So, one example is the craft of good presentations. I know you’ve had some people talking about that on your podcast before.

But, like, one of the elements of a good presentation is that all the kind of unnecessary stuff is stripped away. Edward Tufte, who’s this guru of information design, talks about maximizing the information to ink ratio, which basically means stripping away any ink that is not adding to your message. And so, that’s something in PowerPoint presentations, or posters, or any kind of visual displays, but obviously you can see the same thing in editing, so editing writing, also editing podcasts. I’m sure you’re going to take out some of the stuff that I say here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, not much. Not much.

Leidy Klotz
So, that is a very powerful subtraction that improves the overall product by taking away. So, that’s subtracting in kind of the information way. I think, on a personal level, and I’m certainly not the first person who has thought of this, but thinking about what you can stop doing, especially at work because at work we’re so inclined to show competence, and this is one of the reasons that we tend to add, I think, is because adding shows competence. But reminding ourselves, “Hey, one of the ways to make your work life better is to stop doing marginally useful tasks so that you have more time for the really useful ones.”

So, forcing myself, when I’m doing my to-do list, also thinking about, “Okay, what’s on my stop-doing list for the week?” And it’s critical that it can’t just be things that you’re going to say no to. It has to be things that you’re already doing, and now you’re going to stop doing them. That’s an actual subtraction from your calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s like saving money, like if you buy something that’s 30% off, you haven’t really saved money. But if you remove something, like, “You know what, I don’t even use that thing. Cancel that subscription.” Okay, now you’re saving some real money. So, that’s cool. And I’m curious, now             you’ve got a boatload of science and research behind it. Could you share with us what are some interesting insights, experiments, and results there that have taught you something about how we humans tend to operate and how we might operate better?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah. So, building from the bridge with my son, we did have one Lego-inspired study here, and basically you could solve this Lego study. There was a platform that was protecting a mini figure, and the task was to try to stabilize the platform so that you could balance a brick on top of the platform without crushing the mini figure. And, basically, you could solve this by removing one block and kind of letting the platform set down, or you could solve it by adding eight blocks and stabilizing it that way.

So, in this case, with the bridge it was like either/or. Either way could be a viable solution. In this case, it was obvious that taking away was better. We even incentivized people, and said, “Hey, every block you add, you have to pay for, but if you don’t add blocks, you can keep more of the money that we gave you up front.” And people still, overwhelmingly, kind of defaulted to this way of adding.

And so, what’s interesting about that is it shows not just that we tend to add but also that it’s a problem, like we tend to add even when subtracting would serve us well. And, of course, when people noticed or were told that, “Hey, this is a subtractive option,” they said, “Oh, geez, I wish I did that.” So, that was evidence that people were systematically overlooking it.

And we did this in a lot of different contexts. For me, the most convincing study paradigm was these grids that we created that you could just play on a computer screen. Because the argument could always be, “Well, that’s just what people do with Legos. This doesn’t mean we’re systematically doing it. It just means we add when we’re playing with Legos.”

But the grids on a computer screen are an entirely new task for people, and the way we set that up was there was a matrix, and it was basically divided into four quadrants. And the task people had was to make the quadrants symmetrical from left to right and from top to bottom. And we put extraneous marks in one of the quadrants. So, the way to solve it was to either to remove those extraneous marks from one quadrant or add the mirror marks in three other quadrants.

So, again, as with the Lego protecting the mini figure, subtracting was the better option, and people systematically overlooked it. And with these grids, there was no kind of preconceived contexts or preconceived ideas that people could bring to the task, so it was pretty good evidence that this is something we’re systematically doing.

Pete Mockaitis
in some ways, it’s funny. With like leveling a bridge, I guess I think about like leveling a table. It’s a lot easier to put a little shim under there than it is, like, “Oh, let me whip out the saw and just kind of shorten one of these legs.”

So, in many contexts, adding is easier. Adding, you mentioned, can reveal competence, like, “Oh, wow, you must know a lot of things because look at all those slides you made there.” And so, there’s a little bit of a nudge or bias there. Any other big explainers as to why do we humans do this?

Leidy Klotz
There are a lot of reasons. The first four chapters of the book is that there’s biological, cultural, and economic forces that have us doing it. And I think one useful distinction here is that there’s this basic oversight where we don’t even think of the option, and then there’s all kinds of reasons once we do think of the option, why we wouldn’t even pursue it.

So, your example of, and I certainly agree with, like cutting a leg off a table, that’s harder. But the assumption there is that, “Okay, we considered it. We thought of that option and we chose against it because it was harder.” That’s logical. That’s not a problem. Basically, what’s going on in the cognitive process, the reason we overlook it is because we add and then move on, we basically say, “This satisfies.” So, we say, “This is a good enough solution and I’m moving on without considering other options.”

And then, from there, there’s evolutionary reasons why that might be happening. You mentioned competence. We think of competence as a very work-related thing and it’s maybe a modern thing. I was surprised, doing the research, just how deeply rooted this desire to show competence is. This is why bowerbirds build their ceremonial nests to attract a mate.

So, if you’re not familiar, these birds build these really great nests. The males build the nests, the females go around and look at the nests, and then they decide which males to mate with based on which nest they like the best. And then the females go and make their own nests to shelter the kids. So, these nests serve no other function than to say, “Hey, the bowerbird who built this nest is effective at interacting with their world.”

And so, we all have this biological desire to show competence. So, when I have 800-file folders saved for this research that we did, none of which that are ever going to see the light of day, part of that is this kind of innate desire to show competence through adding things. And so, that’s a strong why. I think there’s cultural reasons, of course. Then cultural and economic reasons that kind of come together.

If your country is being measured on Gross Domestic Product, anything that you add to the economy is going to be seen as a positive even if it’s a jail or something that’s bad. And then if your company is working on kind of quarterly earning reports, that can incentivize adding stuff to show that you’re doing more and to show that there’s increasing streams of revenue coming in.

So, I think there’s economic incentives, cultural incentives, and biological incentives, and they’re all kind of reinforcing each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I guess I’m also thinking about that corporate example reminded me of it seems like sometimes if you’ve got a really great thing going in terms of like a product and process, and it’s like you could just keep doing that all day, it’s sort of like, “Well, hey, the team is getting bored.” It’s like, “We’re getting bored doing this thing that’s working perfectly over and over and over again, and making lots of profits. So, how about we do a new thing?” I think that can happen too.

Leidy Klotz
Yeah. And I think that’s what I like about subtracting. I’m that kind of person. I want to do and I don’t want to kind keep doing the same thing over and over. And subtracting is an action, so it’s like, this is different than just kind of sitting back, kind of minimalism, or even laziness, or just getting stuck in a rut. It’s like, “Hey, we want to change. We want to improve this thing. We want to try something new. Why is it that we only think about things we could add?”

Because the other way to break out of rut, if you’re that organization that’s been doing the same thing over and over and over again, it’s like, “Hey, let’s cut out half of what we’ve been doing and really focus on the other half,” and that would be a change. Again, I’m agnostic on whether you should add or subtract, but to not consider the option is the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You mentioned the research reveals some stuff about how we can get our brains to swim against the current, go against the grain, and do more subtracting. Tell us, how do we go about making that happen?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, and one of the things we’re trying to show with the research, we’re trying to find with the research is whether people weren’t even thinking of this. And so, we would try things to get them to think of it, make them more likely to think of it, and one of the things we tried was cues. So, with the grids, for example, we gave people a cue that you could add or subtract to solve the grid pattern, and that increased the rates of subtracting, which would be like, “Okay, big deal, you gave them a reminder and they were reminded.” But it didn’t increase the rates of adding.

So, what that showed was that the reminder was bringing new subtractions to mind but for adding it was redundant with what people were already thinking. So, it was really useful for our research but also really useful as a how-to. And so, I think one thing is you have a reminder that you can add or subtract, or add and subtract, to solve things, but it’s really important, we didn’t find any evidence that that reminder would kind of carry over from one study to the next, so you have to put those reminders close to where you’re making the decision. That’s why when I’m doing the stop-doing list, I’m forcing a reminder that subtracting is a way to improve my calendar.

One of the things on your sheet, you talked about your listeners, and you talked about them being interested in thinking, and you put a reminder on there about thinking involves generating and selecting ideas, which is beautiful because it’s like that’s a reminder that adding and subtracting can be used here in our thinking process and actually mimics something that I talk about in the book, which is that evolution generates and selects to make progress. So, having those reminders at the point of when you’re making the decisions or when you’re trying to make the improvements is really important and supported by the research.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. so we’ve got some reminders up front. Maybe, could you share with us some of the coolest examples of subtraction in terms of someone did some subtracting and then they saw great results? So, you mentioned you’ve got your stop-doing list. What are some things that you’ve chosen to stop doing and the cool fruit that’s come from that?

Leidy Klotz
Email.

Pete Mockaitis
Nice. Stop doing email.

Leidy Klotz
I haven’t stopped completely but I think just forcing myself to be disciplined with doing it one time a day, and so I positioned that stop-doing as like stop these intermittent email checks. And what’s interesting about that, of course it has this amazing effect where I’m not distracted throughout the day, but it also led to decrease the stream of my email. Because part of the problem with me getting so many emails was me sending so many emails. So, every time I spam my graduate students with, “Hey, did you see this article?” then I’m distracting them, they’re feeling a need to respond, and then I have like distracted people working with me, plus I have six new email responses in my inbox the next time I go to check.

So, that email discipline, that stop-doing, has actually led to cascading subtractions. Another personal one that’s really helpful is kind of just unplugging when I exercise. And, again, like gathering knowledge is just so precious. I listen to podcasts, I read voraciously on Wikipedia, but I had been kind of using my exercise time as like, “Okay, can I catch up on the news while I’m running on the treadmill, while I’m listening to a podcast?” and it wasn’t giving me any time for my brain to kind of like synthesize things and think about what’s really important to select. So, those two are kind of personal ones that are work-related.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And even if they’re not work-related, I’d love to hear what are some cool subtractions you’ve seen in action?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, one of my favorites is the balance bike. So, you said you had a three-year old.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Leidy Klotz
Do you have a balance bike?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t.

Leidy Klotz
You don’t. Oh, man, so this is the value that I’m providing right now to you, Pete. They’re these miniature bikes that don’t have pedals and they allow the kids to ride them like a Flintstones car basically. So, the kid balances on the bike and then just pushes, propels it with their feet. And what’s amazing is that the kids learn how to balance within like 30 minutes to an hour of walking around on this. So, very quickly, they can reach really high speeds as like a two-year old on this bike.

And what’s amazing about is that, well, the power of it, I think, is it gives kids like two extra years of bike riding, which I think is a very delightful thing. I’m disappointed that we didn’t have them when I was growing up. And also, the innovation there is removing the pedals. People have been thinking about better bike design for a hundred years at least, and there’s been a lot of profit to be made, and people added training wheels. We added connections from the kids’ bike to the grownup bike. We made fatter tires, fatter tubes. And it took all this time for somebody to think, “Hey, what if we subtract the pedals? What will happen there?”

So, I think that’s a beautiful example in the physical world. And then an example I used in the book is Bruce Springsteen. He’s a prolific artist, obviously, but one of his albums is Darkness on the Edge of Town, and it’s one of his most critically acclaimed albums. And what’s really unique and noticeable about that album is that he really stripped things down. And so, one, he stripped on the number of songs on the album. He recorded like 50 songs during that time period and only a few of them, a dozen or ten, made it onto the album. And he stripped away some really good songs that became hits for other artists.

But then the music itself is very stripped down. So, the wording is sparse and the music is compact and powerful. And what’s cool about that is that he subtracted but, also, he kind of showed competence by subtracting because it’s not that we can’t show competence by subtracting. It’s just that you need to probably do more of it for your subtracting to stand out. And so, everybody, when they heard this album, and if you’re a Bruce Springsteen fan, if you’re listening to his albums, you’re like, “Well, this is different.” Even if you don’t know why it’s different, you’re like, “This is different. Something happened here.”

And so, in the subtraction that he persisted with there led to this kind of innovative change in how music was made. So, whereas, the balance bike was a physical example, the subtraction in his music is a very kind of ideas/words and music example.

Pete Mockaitis
And I had also heard that married couples that don’t have a TV in their bedroom have more sex. So, I don’t know if we’re going to go here today. And so, I think that’s an interesting example and it sort of makes sense, like, “Hey, well, our focus is on each other as opposed to that large eye-grabbing device on the wall.”

Leidy Klotz
That’s such a beautiful example. And it’s really annoying to be doing these podcasts after writing the book and thinking like, “Oh, I wish I could’ve used the TV-sex example,” would’ve been way better than the example I used in the book to illustrate this principle, which I’m about to say, which is so often when we’re trying to improve a situation, like we think about what incentives we can add. So, it’s like, “Okay, the goal is like let’s have more sex. And so, can we put in mood lights?

Leidy Klotz
You get the idea. There’s a lot of things, a lot of incentives we could add for having sex. And then we often overlook the barriers to the behavior we’re trying to produce. And so, in this case, the barrier is that TV, what’s interesting with this and the argument that people make, and like Kurt Lewin, the founder of social psychology, said, “There’s two ways to change a situation. One is to add incentives and the other is to remove barriers.” And he said, “Removing barriers is actually the good way because it relieves tension.”

So, imagine if you add the incentive, well, you still got the TV there. So, it’s very clear that the incentive might work but if it doesn’t work, there’s still this kind of you’ve got the incentive plus you’ve got the TV, and you haven’t actually relieved the fundamental tension in the system. Whereas, if you stripped away the TV, you’ve actually relieved tension in the system. The example I used in the book is an iPad with a kid. So, it’s so close to the example but it’s so much better than the example I used.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if you go with the iPad and the kids, so if you…

Leidy Klotz
So, the behavior in that case is I’m trying to get my kid to spend time not looking at the iPad when he comes home from school. And so, one thing you can do is say, “Hey, if you don’t use the iPad, you can have a cookie,” that’s the incentive version. And, in this case, if he doesn’t, so it may work. He may eat the cookie and be happy and never think about it, or he may want to watch the iPad still, which increases his frustration because now he’s not getting a cookie because he’s watching the iPad. So, you’ve increased the tension in the system. Whereas, kind of the equivalent of removing the TV is just removing the iPad from the kid’s view and hopefully he doesn’t think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that notion of removing the view, I think, is huge because while it’s true, it’s so funny because I just want to take a photo of the adorable thing my child is doing. And then when I get out my phone, it’s like, “Ooh, can we play the pre-school games?” It’s like, “I just want to take a picture. This is going to be like three seconds.” And so then, we now have a bit of a, “Well, hey, no. We did that earlier,” you’ve got that whole thing.

And so, could you expand upon that in terms of some things that maybe we just want out of view and how we get them out of view? I imagine there’s like social media, news, distractions, and there’s some apps you can use to block those or shut them off. What are some maybe creative ways you’ve seen this put into practice?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, to get them out of view. That’s, essentially, what the email was doing, the not checking the emails, but also the email reminders. I’ve got my good friend Ben who worked with me on the research. He’s like, “I got to figure out how to turn off my email reminders.” And this is like four years into the research together, which is like this is kind of forced, automated adding that’s distracting you throughout the day, so things like that come to mind.

Pete Mockaitis
I heard that there’s a study that they challenged folks to turn off all of their phone notifications for like a week or something, and then they followed up with them like a year later, half of people continued to live that way, like, “Now it’s so much better. Thank you.” And so, it’s striking how that is good. I have seen they’ve actually made…my buddy Jackson, shoutout Jackson, has, I think, it’s called a lite phone and it doesn’t have much. You can make phone calls, you can do texting, maybe a little bit more. It has like a Kindle-style screen, and that’s on purpose. So, you can’t get a bunch of apps and all the distractions that they incur because it’s just not available, or that temptation.

I guess now I’m thinking about like tempting circumstances, like alcoholics, or overeaters, or anyone, or gambling. There’s many number of ways you can just make sure you’re not in the presence of those things, which lead you down there. But I’d love to hear, I guess I’m just so intrigued by this because if people have that hardwiring, like, “More is better and I want more,” what are some maybe surprises you’ve seen in terms of it turns out that subtracting this thing was actually awesome?

Leidy Klotz
We talked a lot about the disadvantages that subtracting faces, like the systematic, “Oh, it doesn’t show competence,” and we don’t think of it. One of the systematic advantages is that when you subtract something, you’re left with the new situation plus whatever you took away. So, like the donut holes is the example I used in the book here just to illustrate it. It’s like it took forever for somebody to realize you could cut the middle of the round wall of dough and make it cook more evenly, and you could spread more stuff onto it. And then it took even longer for somebody to realize, “Hey, this thing that we just took out is actually like another source of revenue.”

And so, this applies in a lot of ways. If you think about divestment is another thing I talk about in the book, which is like, “How do you, not investing in things that are kind of counter to your values?” So, this was really powerful in helping bring down apartheid in South Africa, for example. It’s like, “Okay, let’s stop investing in the companies that are operating in South Africa, propping up this system that nobody thinks is good.”

And when you divest, you take the money out and you’ve still got the money. You can do something with it. You can go put it somewhere else. It’s the same, going back to your example of the people in the business who are like, “Okay, we’re working along really well, and we like what we’re doing. What can we do differently? What can we add?” If you add, you’ve got this existing situation plus all the stuff you’ve added, the activities you’ve added, so you’re still at capacity or beyond capacity. If you take something away, then you’ve got the new improved situation, which is like you’re streamlined-focus plus you’ve got this effort that is now unaccounted for and you can devote to something else.

So, I think it makes sense when it’s explained to you but it’s also a little counterintuitive when we think about subtracting. We often overlook the fact that you can reuse the thing that you took away. Whereas, if you add, you’ve got nothing left over.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, whether it’s money or time or attention or energy, you got it.

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, time is a big one.

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

Leidy Klotz
No, I think the key thing is across ideas, objects with the Lego bridge, and then our day-to-day situations. So, the ideas one, that’s for people who like to listen to podcasts and for people who like to think about how they’re going to be better at their job. We spend a lot of time kind of accumulating information and we often overlook, like, “Okay, how do I streamline my mental models? What am I kind of grounding my ideas in that I may not believe anymore that has been shown isn’t actually the way that I think it is?” And so, spending the time streamlining our mental models is a really powerful use of subtraction and very overlooked.

Pete Mockaitis
Streamlining our mental models, so that’s like specifically identifying the, “I don’t believe, think, accept, agree with this thing anymore.”

Leidy Klotz
Yeah. And prioritizing, so it’s like, “Yeah, this thing is true. I listened to it but It doesn’t warrant the same attention as these kinds of four core things that are in my mental models.” The intentional version of synaptic pruning, which is our brain has evolved to do naturally which is like the connections that get used, get reinforced and strengthened, and when we sleep, it kind of prunes away the connections that aren’t being used to leave more room for the connections that are being used. So, our brain does that on its own for all the parts of the brain, but it also is something that we can do, and say, “Hey, this is not something that warrants the same amount of attention as some other ideas that are really, really critical.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Leidy, could you share with us a mental model or two that you have pruned away as the years have gone by?

Leidy Klotz
This is a slightly embarrassing one to share but I think if people are honest with themselves, I think a lot of us felt the same way. So, if you think about the systemic racism, I remember last summer the first time systemic racism came up in a department meeting, everybody, myself included, some people were verbally like, “Whoa, we’re not racists.” And I was probably thinking that but not articulating it, smart enough to not articulate it, but I think that’s certainly a mental model that shifted this notion that I knew the playing field wasn’t level before. I knew that always but just kind of the degree to which it was not level, and the fact that there can be systemic racism with me not being racist.

It required learning a little bit of new stuff but it also required subtracting some of my deeply held beliefs about how the United States operates for people. And so, I think that’s one very important one that has shifted for me recently.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote?

Leidy Klotz
Perfect, and we didn’t cover it yet, and it relates to subtraction. So, Lao Tzu has this great quote that’s attributed to him, that’s, “To gain knowledge, add things every day. To gain wisdom, subtract things every day.” I love the quote because it’s a great reminder that we talked about being important, but it’s also evidence of the fact that we’ve been overlooking subtraction for a long time because this is a two and a half millennia-old quote, and it still rings true and counterintuitive today.

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

Leidy Klotz
One that I really like that I find myself talking about a lot is actually Ashley Whillans, who’s at Harvard, and Liz Dunn, who’s at the University of British Columbia, they do a lot of work on time and happiness, and they’ve got this great study that shows that people who spend money to save time are happy.

And they show it, one reaction to that study is like, “Well, yeah, that’s because they have money to spend on like housekeepers.” But they show it on a population of millionaires but they also show it in people who are working on like minimum wage. And they do that by kind of giving them money and setting up a controlled experiment where certain people spend the money in one way, and certain people spend money the other way.

So, it’s a really cool study. It’s really powerful. And it ties into subtraction here because what you’re essentially doing when you spend money to save time is you’re like not only are you not doing something, which we see is hard for competence, it’s hard when you say, “Okay, I’m not going to do this task anymore,” but you’re actually paying for it now. You’re not going to do it plus you’re going to pay somebody else to do it. So, it’s a hard thing to do but the research shows that people who do do it are happier, so it’s really a great research and also very practical.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, Leidy, that reminds me of back in the day when I had roommates who did not work from home, and I was doing a lot of coaching, I found my laundry was kind of piling during busy season, and I was like, “Well, I mean, this is good money per hour from the coaching. Am I just supposed to stop and do laundry? But am I going to wear dirty clothes? What are my options here?”

And so, even though I was working from home, and there were like eight laundry machines on the first floor of this apartment building, I paid someone to come in and do my laundry. You can have a laundry service, Leidy, but then they don’t put in your drawers and closets. And so, I felt a little silly and decadent but I kept looking at the spreadsheet, I was like, “I will make more money and have clean laundry by paying someone else to come do this for me but I don’t want to feel, like, I’m so rich, I’m too good to do my laundry.” I had this mental block but I did it and I loved it and my roommates made fun of me but I didn’t care.

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, that’s a great example. That’s the exact feeling that I have when I do it, it’s like, “Who am I to be this guy who hires a whatever?” but, yeah, it’s exactly that. Number one, the money that you’re making, and then when you’ve got kids, it’s the free time that you’re losing. This is like an hour of my kids’ life when he actually thinks I’m cool. I don’t want to lose that. So, yeah, you’ve given us a really good way to overcome that, and Whillans and Dunn talk about this, it’s like, “Think about the value of your time.” And then, also, another reason that’s kind of hard to do because, yeah, you feel snooty.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Leidy Klotz
I’m biased towards the ones I read recently, but Alison Gopnik has this great book called The Gardener and the Carpenter. It’s about parenting and the cognitive psychology of parenting. But she’s a psychologist plus a philosopher which I think is the perfect combination for parenting, and it’s just an amazing parenting book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. Well, I was just reading No-Drama Discipline by the authors of the The Whole-Brain Child, and now I’ve got this one. Thank you.

Leidy Klotz
Yes, I like The Whole-Brain Child too. And if I can plug one other author, Eduardo Galeano. I love his stuff. He’s an Uruguayan guy who writes kind of this amazing blend of history/his opinions/fiction, and it’s like unlike anything you read before, and it’s really amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Leidy Klotz
Favorite tool. This is an embarrassing one – Wikipedia. I use it a lot. It’s just so amazing. We talk about this information to wisdom thing, and the amount of work that people have done to make Wikipedia. It’s not my last stop in doing research, but it’s often my first stop because things are organized around subjects instead of in isolated journal articles. So, it’s an amazing tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love Wikipedia for when I’ve been out of the game for news for a while, and there’s an article about the latest development in a thing, I was like, “Well, what was this thing?” And then you go to Wikipedia, and you read a four-minute piece, and it has like 180 references, you’re like, “Oh, I’m glad I didn’t read 180 news articles. I’ve read this synopsis. Thank you.”

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, you’re right. I hadn’t thought about that but that’s a great kind of way to subtract information and still get the same benefit. It’s like just wait a couple weeks if it’s important and it’ll be on Wikipedia. And not only that, but it’ll be summarized so you don’t have to go get the 180 different viewpoints. You can get it all in one spot and distill it for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. And a favorite habit?

Leidy Klotz
Exercising is really important to me, and unplugging when exercising, we already talked about. So, yeah, just physical exercise to kind of strengthen my mental performance. Also, just because it’s enjoyable but the more I progress in my career, the more I realize how instrumental it is in my mental performance too.

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

Leidy Klotz
“Less is not a loss,” is kind of a counterintuitive thing from the book. So, yeah, it is what it sounds like but oftentimes we don’t subtract because we perceive the end state as being a loss. And what we’ve talked about in all of these cases are subtractions that actually lead to something better, but it’s still really easy to kind of conflate the two. And so, this reminder that less is not always a loss seems to be really helpful for people.

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

Leidy Klotz
Twitter is great. I’m @Leidyklotz. And I like interacting with people especially people who have read the book. It’s really fun to hear their thoughts. One of the cool things about the book, in my mind, is that it brings up kind of people’s experiences from all walks of life, so it’s incredibly rewarding for me to hear, like I told the Bruce Springsteen story earlier.

I talked to this guy in Germany who’s writing an article about the research for Germany’s version of MIT Technology Review but he also talked to me about these Johnny Cash American recordings. He’s like, “It’s just like what you’re describing with Bruce Springsteen.” So, now I have like six CDs, well, six downloads on Amazon to listen to from Johnny Cash that were sparked by my book. And then he shared with me and it’s made my life better. Very selfish authorship here. It’s like, “What benefit can readers give me from reading?”

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

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, add and subtract. So, don’t overlook this basic option to make things better.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Leidy, this has been fun. I wish you much enjoyment in all of your subtracting.

Leidy Klotz
Thank you. You, too, Pete.

681: How to Achieve Greatness without Talent or Hard Work with Ron Friedman

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Ron Friedman says: "Measurement begets performance"

Ron Friedman provides a third path to greatness through reverse engineering.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to reverse-engineer greatness 
  2. How to train people to give you better feedback
  3. The 5 minute trick that will boost your performance by 20% 

About Ron

Ron Friedman, PhD, is an award-winning psychologist who has served on the faculty of the several prestigious colleges in the United States and has consulted for political leaders, nonprofits, and many of the world’s most recognized brands. Popular accounts of his research have appeared in major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, the Globe and Mail, The Guardian, as well as magazines such as Harvard Business Review and Psychology Today. 

Ron is the founder of ignite80, a learning and development company that translates research in neuroscience, human physiology and behavioral economics into practical strategies that help working professionals become healthier, happier and more productive. His first book, The Best Place to Work, was selected as an Inc. Magazine Best Business Book of the Year. 

Resources Mentioned

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Ron Friedman Interview Transcript

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

Ron Friedman
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom you’ve put forward in your latest book.

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

Ron Friedman
Great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom that you’ve packaged in your latest book Decoding Greatness, which, in fact, releases on the very day we’re recording this conversation. How is that going? Is it a crazy week for you?

Ron Friedman
You know, it’s an interesting experience. It is my second book. A friend of mine asked me, “What is it like to have this out in the world?” And I think the experience of going from zero to one is qualitatively different than going from one to two. It’s still exciting but you know what to expect now. And I think the first time is a little bit more nerve-wracking.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. I remember when the release date for my book happened, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this is the day. This is the day. This is the day.” But all that really changed was on Amazon, it switched from like pre-order to order.

Ron Friedman
That’s exactly right. And so much of the actual launch activity happens way before the launch and it’s actually very a little bit anticlimactic. It’s not like a movie premiere where you get to see people’s reactions. It’s like you don’t see the reaction for a very long time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Well, I have a feeling the reaction is going to be strong because I’m excited by what I’ve read thus far. So, the book is called Decoding Greatness. First of all, just to be on the same page, what do we mean by greatness?

Ron Friedman
Greatness is top performance in your field, whatever that may be. So, if you’re a writer, it could be someone like Malcolm Gladwell. If you’re an elected official, it could be someone like Donald Trump or, in some cases, Barack Obama. It really depends on what it is that you do and who it is that you want to understand a little bit better. And what this book is about is it gives you a process for identifying what makes a particular work unique so that you can learn from it in a little bit more analytically and then apply that to your work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds exciting. Could you maybe share with us a story that illustrates what it looks like in practice how someone goes about decoding greatness and the cool results that flow from doing that?

Ron Friedman
Absolutely. So, one of my favorite stories in this book is how Kurt Vonnegut, the famous writer, would reverse-engineer or deconstruct famous stories. And what he would do is he would take stories and map the protagonist’s fortunes on a graph. So, in other words, he would take a story and turn it into a picture.

And so, on the X-axis, at the bottom, you would have from the beginning of the story to the end of the story. On the Y-axis, on the vertical axis, you would see the protagonist’s fortune. So, how are things going for the main character? Are things going well? Are things going poorly? And by the end, he would have a picture.

And what he noticed, as he did this, is that the vast majority of stories that we fall in love with are basically the same story retold with different characters. So, a great illustration is Cinderella versus Annie. They’re basically the same story. So, at the beginning for both characters, things are going poorly. Annie is an orphan; Cinderella is being abused by her stepmother and stepsisters. They get rescued. There’s a ball, or in the case of Annie, she goes to the home of Daddy Warbucks. Then things go horribly wrong. The clock strikes midnight, Annie gets kidnapped by people pretending to be her parents. And then, finally, there’s a climax and things are resolved. They live happily ever after. Same story, different characters.

And we don’t notice it because it’s so well-told that we just find them both fascinating. Once you understand that you have a tool for this, for stepping back and getting the bigger picture on seeing why something at work is working, you can use it in all kinds of places. So, another great example of this is in the case of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

So, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is a great story. The first time you read it, you can’t help but fall in love with the characters, and the settings, and the fascinating storyline. But then, after a little while, you take maybe on a summer picnic, you start thinking about it, and then you realize, “Wait a second. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a story about an orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle, who’s whisked away in an adventure and has to fight an evil villain using magical powers.” There’s another story just like that, and it’s Star Wars. And it illustrates the power of just stepping back and seeing what’s really happening at the story level that you can apply to any work not just fiction.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, this can apply to fiction. You start with a great story in your book about Xerox and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. It’s actually so good just to tell it. It was riveting. Let’s hear it.

Ron Friedman
Oh, I appreciate you saying that. It’s a story of how it is that we got the personal computer. And back in the 1980s, computers looked nothing like the sleek intuitive devices that we all use today. If you wanted a computer to do anything, you’d have to reach out for a keyboard and input a rigid text-based language to input your instructions. And today, of course, we do none of that. We just have a mouse, we point and click, and everything is represented visually.

That innovation is called graphic user interface. It’s GUI for short, people in Silicon Valley refer to it as GUI. And Steve Jobs was about to go to market with the Macintosh which was going to be the first personal computer with a graphic user interface, and he’s beaten to the punch, and it turns out Bill Gates is about to launch Windows just before the Macintosh is about to reach market.

Now, these two were not competitors. Microsoft and Windows, I mean, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Microsoft and Apple, were not competitors at the time. In fact, Microsoft and Bill Gates were a vendor for Apple. They were writing software for the Macintosh. And so, Steve Jobs was furious. He felt like he had been stolen from. He felt like this was his innovation and Bill Gates stole it from him.

And so, there’s this showdown, that’s the opening of my book, in which Jobs accuses Gates of having stolen his technology, and Gates’ response was, “Well, actually, Steve, it wasn’t you I stole it from. It was Xerox.” And in both of their stories, it was the inconvenient fact that they had both seen what Xerox was working on, Xerox Alto, which was a computer with a graphic user interface that wasn’t directed at the consumer market but rather to large businesses, and Xerox didn’t see the potential of that technology for developing the personal computers because they never thought personal computers were going to catch on. And they thought that really typing was the domain of secretaries. It really wasn’t for the everyday individual, and so they were sitting on it.

And so, Steve Jobs, after seeing the Alto, reverse-engineered it by telling his team what they did so that they could work backwards to figure out how they can recreate something similar but evolve it in a different direction because it wasn’t simply the recreation of the Alto. In the case of Apple, they were looking to add artistic fonts and making computers user-friendly. And Bill Gates also saw the Alto, told his team about it, and they were working to create personal computers that were affordable to a mass audience.

And so, both of them took an underutilized idea, the Xerox Alto and its graphic user interface, and applied it in different directions. And that turns out to be the approach that many of us simply aren’t educated about. We don’t hear these stories about how ideas are built upon previously existing ideas. And so, what I wanted to do in this book is give people the tools for learning from the best in their field so that they can evolve those ideas in different directions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so cool. So, that seems like the value of this concept is self-evident or already illustrated with these examples. Like, if we see something that’s great, we can kind of figure out, “Hey, what made it great?” and then we too can make great things. So, that’s awesome whether you want to be awesome at your job, or singing, or maybe any number of skills or results you want to create out there in the world. So, then how do we go about doing that?

I guess Kurt Vonnegut, that’s kind of clever. I don’t know if he reverse-engineered the idea of how to go about reverse-engineering, but it’s like, “You know what, I’m just going to go ahead and graph this on an X-Y plane and see what goes down.” How do you recommend we begin the process of we noticed something that we like or want or want to replicate, and then what?

Ron Friedman
So, the first step in this process is to collect great examples. And when we think about collections, we tend to think about physical objects. So, some people I know collect stamps. My dad collected stamps. People collect wines. They collect shoes. But that definition of collections as physical objects turns out to be too narrow. There are collections that designers have of logos that they have found impactful. Writers collect words or headlines. Presenters collect presentation decks.

And when you have a collection, then you can look through it to identify, “What are the things that make it different from items that didn’t make my collection?” So, it’s like playing a game of spot the difference which is a game we all played as kids where you have two visuals side by side, and you compare them, you say, “Hey, what’s different about this one? What stands out for me?”

And through this process of using spot the difference with items in your collections against items that didn’t make your collection, you’re able to identify what it is that makes successful works unique. And that’s a process that can help you identify the ingredients that make something really effective. So, for example, you might come across a memo that’s particularly well-written, an email that really gets you to take action, a website that you want to opt-in for.

And developing a collection by either putting things in Google Docs, or adding bookmarks, or even using Pinterest, that gives you a resource you can turn to when it’s time for you to start creating something new that is far different than just staring at a blank page.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that so much and I guess I have not the most organized of collections but I have noticed things, like, “Ooh, why do I love that? Like, that’s grabbing me.” And I think it might just be a little bit of copywriting. Like, well, copywriters, you mentioned collecting headlines. They call them swipe files, it’s like, “I’m going to swipe this or modify this a little bit to be persuasive.”

And I saw something, this is for a property management company, and it said, like, “One hundred percent occupancy. One hundred percent market rents. You should expect nothing less.” I was like, “Whoa!” and it’s like, “Why is that amazing?” It’s like because it is exactly to the maximum what a property owner would want from a property manager, and boldly put, front and center, and that’s awesome.

Or, like Andreessen Horowitz, I love their slide decks. On SlideShare, I’ve gotten a few of those, I was like, “Why do I love this so much?” And it’s like, “Oh, because the slide headline makes one great point and then has compelling data that share that as opposed to just being like revenue over time.” What about the revenue over time? It’s like, “Oh, this sector has grown rapidly.” Then I say, “Oh, yeah, sure enough. Those companies in that industry, I see their growth over time,” and I can’t argue with those numbers. They convey that point.

And so, you get a collection and then you think about it. And what’s interesting is sometimes it leaps out at you with a quick question, like, “Oh, why do I like this?” And other times, it seems you got to dig a little deeper. And you suggested kind of comparing collections of greatness versus not-so greatness.

Ron Friedman
Yeah, looking at the difference between ordinary against the extraordinary, so what makes this unique. What I think is interesting about the fact that you’ve noticed that this works for you is that more people need to know that. And I think so many of us assume that we need to come up with great ideas on our own without having any kind of direction from the works of people who preceded us, but that’s not how creative ideas happen.

Creative ideas happen through the process of combining winning ideas from different fields or different sectors in new ways. And the last thing you want to do when you’re looking for creativity is to work in isolation because then, invariably, you will just keep considering coming back to the same ideas again and again and again. But when you have that swipe file or that collection you can turn to, that’s a source of inspiration.

And I can tell you that, personally, as a writer, I collect great words, I collect, in other words, words that got me to sit up and pay attention on the page. I’ll circle them in a book and then I’ll move them over to a Google Doc. I have openings of stories that I think really set the tone really well. I have transitions, I have conclusions, and all of these resources enable me to pay closer attention when something works, identify why it’s working, and then, in certain cases, learn from that to apply to other things that I’m building.

And as I talk to creative professionals, as I was writing Decoding Greatness, invariably, I would get the same response from people who are in fields like design or writing. They would say, “I’ve been doing this all my life, and I’ve never read anything about it. I just kind of stumbled on this approach myself.” And what I tried to do in writing this book is give people the tools to learn a little faster from the best in their field so that they can accelerate their success.

I think so many of us assume that learning is what happens when we were at school, and now we’re kind to have to fend for ourselves. And this is a systematic approach you can use at any field. And just to make this concrete, we talked about what happens after you’ve got that collection. So, in Decoding Greatness one of the things I do is I take you through how to reverse-engineer winning TED Talk. And so, I give the example of Sir Ken Robinson who’s got the most popular TED Talk of all time.

And what I did was, with his TED Talk, is I looked at the transcript, and then I reverse-outlined it. So, everyone has heard of outlining. Outlining is the process of identifying bullet points for what you intend to put into a work later on, into an essay, or into an email, or into a document of some kind. Reverse outline allows you to use that same process but by taking a finished piece, and it could be somebody else’s finished piece.

So, here, what I did was I took the transcript to this TED Talk and I reverse-outlined it to show you what’s happening in every section of the talk, so now you see I’ve reduced a 20-minute talk into bullet points. And now you can see, okay, here’s a progression. Then I identified what is happening in terms of the emotional valence of every section. So, what is the emotional journey that Sir Ken Robinson takes you on?

And there are a few other things that I do in the book, but what the takeaway here is, when you do this analysis, what you discover is all kinds of interesting things, like the fact that Sir Ken Robinson relays one fact over the course of this entire talk. So, if I was writing a TED Talk from scratch, I would assume I need to pound away at multiple persuasive facts in order to convince you of my point. He does none of that and he’s got the most popular TED Talk of all time.

What he is doing differently is he’s telling you a lot of stories, a lot of emotionally engaging and funny stories. And that’s the thing that makes his talk memorable and gets people sharing it. And that tells you something really impactful for when you’re creating either a TED Talk or a presentation of any kind, which is that people want the facts to be there, but that’s not the thing that’s going to make you engaging. If you want to be engaging, you’ve got to do a ton of storytelling.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And so, the reversed outline is one particular tool that we can use if it is a piece of speaking or writing, and trying to see, “Hey, what made that great?” Lay on some more with us. So, if that’s for a piece of writing, I guess I’m curious if someone…let’s talk about skills. Like, let’s say, I don’t think I’m particularly handy and I’d kind of like to be. How might I go about decoding the greatness of those handy people who can just create and fix anything with just the greatest of ease?

Ron Friedman
Yeah, that’s interesting. So, I’ll say a couple of things. One is, first, let me just take a step back and just explain kind of the big idea for the book. The big idea is that we’ve been taught that greatness comes from one of two places. So, the first story is that great story comes from talent. This is the idea that you’re born with certain inner strengths, and that the key to finding your greatness is identifying a field that allows your inner strengths to shine.

The second story is a story of practice. This is the Malcolm Gladwell story of 10,000 hours, practice, practice, practice. Eventually, you get good enough and then you become a master. The third story though is one that is unique to creative fields, so it’s not necessarily applicable to handymen but it is applicable to when you’re trying to create something new, whether it be writing a song, creating a dish, or writing a book. And that is reverse engineering. And that simply means looking at finished examples and then working backwards to figure out how they were created.

And, as we mentioned, this is a popular thing that happens in Silicon Valley. There’s a whole history of products that were reverse-engineered and evolved. And yet, what most people don’t realize is that reverse engineering is also how Malcolm Gladwell learned to write, and how Claude Monet learned to paint, and how Judd Apatow became the great comedic writer that he is, So, working backwards turns out to be far more popular than anyone ever imagined.

And now, in the case of somebody whose physical skill you want to understand, there’s a chapter in the book on how to interview experts, and gives you the questions that you need to ask in order to learn from someone whose expertise you wish to deconstruct. One of the interesting things that you want to cover when you look at the research on the way that experts communicate is that experts, surprisingly, turn out to be pretty terrible instructors, and there are a number of reasons for that.

The primary reason why experts have a hard time communicating is because of the curse of knowledge. And so, the curse of knowledge simply states that knowing something makes it impossible to imagine not knowing it. And so, if I know how to fix an overflowing toilet and you don’t, if I tried to explain that to you, I’m probably going to miss some steps because some things that are obvious to me may not be obvious to you as a novice. That’s one of the issues.

The other issue is that they have automated large chunks of information and procedures that they don’t even consciously think about as they’re doing it so they’re missing a lot of information. And, in fact, I point to a study in “Decoding Greatness” where over 70% of their thought process somehow goes missing as they’re trying to explain to you how they go about doing things.

And so, here, what you want to do is you want to interview experts in a way that illuminates some of the discoveries they made along their journey. And so, just to give you an example of a type of question you might ask is, as somebody was training to become a handyman, what are some of the things that they thought would be important when they first started out, that turned out to be not very important. That’s a type of question that forces the expert to think about their initial entry into the field against where they are today.

And those types of questions where you’re forcing the person to think about their actual experience against their anticipated experience, that’s where they acknowledge some of the things that they’ve learned that they can then share to you and make your job a little bit easier.

Pete Mockaitis
And as I’m thinking about this, it’s going to be very, very mundane but it’s sort of like, “It seems like I strip screws frequently. It’s like was there a time in which you used to strip screws frequently and what discoveries did you make that helped you stopped doing that?” Like, “Oh, yeah, certainly. Well, it’s all about the hardness of the screw versus the torque required to stick it in the thing, and so sometimes you got to pre-drill a hole but usually I just get really hard screws and then it’s not a problem anymore. This one is awesome.” It’s like, “Well, alright. Thank you. Now I know.”

Ron Friedman
Exactly. But if you had simply asked the question of, “How do I do X?” you would’ve gotten a) probably a lot of information that you have a hard time making sense of if they’re speaking in a different language than you because they have that expertise, and they would’ve missed that thing that you consider so valuable.

And so, the point here, and I start with that particular chapter with the story of Marlon Brando teaching an acting course late in life where he invited all of Hollywood’s elite, he hired a director. He was going to transform this into a paid class that he was going to then charge film schools to screen. And the acting class turned out to be a disaster.

And, in fact, by day three there was a walkout. Some of the things that he thought would be helpful to the students was requiring them to strip naked in front of each other to demonstrate courage. He thought it would be helpful if he brought homeless people off the street and then try to teach them how to act. And, as it turned out, it was a complete debacle. There was a walkout. The director quit. It was just a fiasco. And it just illustrates how experts have a hard time evaluating what it is that contributes to their own greatness.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we ask about discoveries they’ve made, things that they thought would have been important that weren’t so important, surprises that they’ve had that turns out that was actually super important. Any other thoughts on how to interview experts well?

Ron Friedman
So, we talked about the discovery questions that you can ask an expert about things that they thought wouldn’t be important, ended up being important, or vice versa. Other questions are process questions. So, here, what you’re trying to do is drill down on the particular steps an expert applies to bring their work to life or to make adjustments if they’re handymen. So, questions like, “What do you do first? And then what? What’s next? What’s after that?” kind of walking them through the particular process step by step by step because, again, invariably, they’re going to skip some steps. But if you take them through that process, that can help.

Now, just to give you another tip here. What I talk about in the book is that you want to act like a focus group moderator. And so, focus group moderators are outstanding at getting people to disclose sensitive information within a short period of time. How they do that is by adopting a mindset of naïve curiosity. So, they’re not showing off about all that they know. What they are doing is they’re almost pretending like they know nothing and they’re letting the expert feel like they’re super smart.

So, there’s a saying that you may have heard, which is, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” I love that saying because what it suggests is that if you’re not learning from those around you, you’re not growing as well as you could be. Here, focus group moderators are never the smartest person in the room. They’re the last person to buff up their ego. They’re here to just learn and soak up information as much as they can. And that’s the same attitude you want when learning from experts because you want to let them take all the spotlight and ask them just naively curious questions and listen to their responses very carefully.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s true. It’s funny, as you think about the focus group moderators, I imagine it’s true. Well, I know it is. Like, people really do want to tell you a lot about whatever, how they think about their sponges. But they know that no one cares and they have to rein it in. But then when you just give them that permission to unleash the floodgates, it’s like, I could talk to you about some clubs, Ron, and why I love them and why I chose them and why I spend so much time researching them, and what I was looking for. But I know, Ron, you and nobody else cares, so I just have to keep this treasure trove all bundled up to myself. But if someone were naively curiously probing in that dimension, boy, I’d enjoy telling them about it. So, I think that really resonates. So, thank you for that.

Ron Friedman
Yeah. And if you’re interested, I’ll just do the thing that you said that you should not do. I’ll tell you more about what focus group moderators do well, and that is that they prioritize questions but not by placing the most important question first. They ask the least invasive question first. And so, what that does is that it builds a sense of comfort so that you can build up to the question that’s a little bit more sensitive later on. And that’s another interesting way of getting an expert to open up.

So, for example, if you’ve ever taken a survey online, it doesn’t start off by asking you your income. What does it ask you? It asks you something much simpler, “Where do you live? Where were you born? How many kids do you have?” The last questions on the surveys are a lot more difficult, like, “What is your household income?” It’s because you’ve been sharing for 20 minutes now, 50 items. Now you’re much more likely to be open about your income.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And even if I don’t want to share my income, it’s like, “Oh, I’m almost done. I just want to knock this thing out. Fine. Here it is.” That’s good. Okay. So, we got the reverse outline, we’ve got the interviewing of experts. What are some of your other favorite approaches to going about decoding greatness?

Ron Friedman
Well, another interesting approach is to quantify features, and now that’s going to scare a lot of people. If you’re not into math, that might be a little intimidating, and I want to just comfort you a little bit by letting you know that this should not be intimidating.

And so, one of the techniques that I talk about in this book is looking at websites that are extraordinary and comparing them to websites that are a little bit less extraordinary or ordinary websites, and looking for spotting the differences. But there’s a technique you can use by quantifying particular features. And so, I did this in the book by showing you how to reverse-engineer Apple’s website and compare it to Apple’s chief competitor Samsung.

And when you do that, what you uncover is that Apple does some things very, very well. Number one is that they don’t mention price all that often, whereas Samsung has got price on every single item. There’s a lot less movement on Apple’s website, it’s a lot more calm, whereas Samsung is a lot busier, it’s got a lot of flashing buttons, etc.

One of the reasons Apple has such a muted design is because Apple is aiming for simplicity. That’s their mantra. And busyness causes anxiety, and anxiety is the opposite of simplicity. And so, when you quantify some of the features, like, “How many buttons are flashing? How many of the messages include price?” That’s an example of a way of data mining in a way that allows you to illuminate some of the key differences, and that’s a technique that you can apply to anything.

So, if you’re looking at someone’s writing, what you might look at is how many times they use an adjective versus verb. What language level are they incorporating in their writing? All of these approaches help you illuminate hidden patterns in some of the things that you find impactful. And once you have that, once you have that reverse outline, once you’ve outlined some of the quantitative differences, you can start to create templates.

So, we talked about that ad that you saw, Pete, that you mentioned that stood out for you. If you were to zoom out and look at what’s really happening on line one, what’s happening on line two, what’s happening on line three, you can detect a formula. And it’s by zooming out, doing reverse outlines, and that allows you to templatize some of the most important work you’re creating.

So, if you‘re someone who writes emails, or memos, or proposals, there is a template out there that is hidden in plain sight. All you need to do is find those great examples, figure out what’s happening at each paragraph, and turn that into a template by asking yourself a question. Like, for example, I talk about in the book of how I uncovered this when I was writing academic journal articles. And at the time when I first started doing this, I had no idea how to start. I was staring at a blank page, racking my brain, trying to write an academic journal article.

And then, one day, I decided to look at the writing of an academic whose work I admired, and I looked to see what he was doing in every paragraph. And I read article after article after article, and then, eventually, it dawned on me that he was using a formula. And that formula was, at the beginning of the article he would start off with some type of jarring fact, so a news story, that he would raise a question. Then he would give you a literature, showing you all the previous literature, and then he would present his thesis.

That formula is one that I could then take and apply to my writing. All I needed was to find a jarring fact, find a question to pivot to, do a research review, and then present my thesis. That’s an example of hidden patterns inside works we admire. And if we have the system for figuring out what’s happening in every particular paragraph, and then that allows us to not just figure out what’s working but also templatize it to make our work so much easier.

Pete Mockaitis
And as you described this, I’m curious to get your take on the role of feedback and iteration because I guess I’m thinking, it’s like, “Okay, I know the ingredients now. Jarring fact.” And so then, you find something you think, “Ooh, I found that pretty jarring,” but maybe your audience, and maybe the case of the academic paper review board, or the people in the conference room you’re going to be presenting to, don’t find that to be too jarring. So, how do you think about getting input to see, “Hey, how am I doing here?” and tweaking and fine tuning and proving and proving and proving?

Ron Friedman
It’s a great question. And, in fact, in Decoding Greatness the first half of the book is, “How do you reverse-engineer and evolve formulas?” It’s not just about copying. It’s also about evolving. The second half of the book is about shrinking the gap between your vision, in other words the formula you’ve reverse-engineered, and your current ability. So, just because you know what the formula is doesn’t mean you’re going to execute it well. It’s all of these science-based strategies for scale-building that will enable you to shrink the gap between your current skills and your ultimate vision.

And so, there’s a section in there on how to train the people around you to give you better feedback. Now, it turns out that feedback can be surprisingly harmful. In over 33% of cases, the feedback that we get actually makes our performance worse. We tend to think of the more feedback the better, that turns out not to be true. What you need to do is you need to have the ability to train the people around you to give you better feedback.

And so, one of the techniques that you can use to get better feedback, number one, is finding the right audience. So, a lot of cases, we go to our spouse or the people who sit next to us at the office. That’s not always the best audience to deliver the feedback. So, we have to think really critically about who we’re asking these questions.

But then, on top of that, what you want to do is be really specific about the type of feedback that you want. You might say, “Hey, is this fact jarring enough? Does this cause you to think twice about something that you thought before? Or, is this kind of so-so?” That specificity will give you the level of feedback that is actually useful.

A third thing to do is to ask for advice rather than feedback. There’s research out of Harvard Business School showing that when you ask people for advice, they tend to give you far more solutions than if you just ask for feedback. And the reason for that is when you ask someone for feedback, they tend to compare your current performance against your past performance.

And so, what they often will come back to you with it is, “It’s good,” meaning that your performance has improved. That’s not particularly insightful or helpful when you’re trying to improve. But when you ask them for advice, what they do is they compare your current iteration against your possible future iterations. And now they can see a lot of potential future avenues for you to take the work, so they’re more likely to give you suggestions when you ask for advice.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. Well, how else will we do the skill-building?

Ron Friedman
Well, another tip is to create your own personal scoreboard. So, in chapter four, I talk about the scoreboard principle. And in business, it’s quite clear that using metrics helps improve performance. You probably heard of the saying, “What gets measured gets managed.” In everyday life, we’re all flying blind. We have no metrics to tell us whether or not we’re succeeding. And the scoreboard principle is simple. What it tells us is that measurement begets performance. Anything you measure, you are likely to improve upon. And there is just a flood of reasons for this.

Evolutionarily, our chances of survival improve the more sensitive we were to numbers. And the reason for that is that having that kind of sensitivity around numbers told you which food source was larger than another. It also helps you detect if you’re in danger when you encountered another tribe. And so, we’re all built with this mechanism, and neurologists refer to this as a numbers instinct, that is actually across the animal kingdom.

And so, we’re all very sensitive to numbers which is why when we track our behaviors, we tend to be a lot more successful at executing them. And so, the key to improving your skill at just about anything is to identify, “What are the behaviors I’m trying to get good at?” and then monitoring them on a regular basis. And to the extent that you do that, your performance will improve.

And so, we know this from the research. There’s actually a study showing that people who track the amount of food they consume are far better at losing weight, even when they’re given the exact same diet as another group that wasn’t asked to track their food consumption. And the reason for that is when you’re monitoring your caloric intake, you get this emotional rush when it’s low, whereas, you feel a little bit ashamed when it’s high. And those emotional jolts actually motivate you to do a better job in the future.

And you can apply that same technique to how many uninterrupted minutes you have during the workday. That improves your focus. Just by tracking how much time you spend on focused work, that will likely improve your performance from the perspective of not being distracted.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really good. And I’ve had that experience myself with regard to, hey, I’m not actually going to try to eat any differently but I just want to get a sense for, “How am I doing?” but sure enough, I do. I eat better when I’ve used the LoseIt app. I find it very easy to enter the goods, and so that’s cool. And, likewise, when it comes to like habit-tracking type things, even when I’m not trying, it’s like, “Hey, I’ve already got a lot on my plate. I’m not going to commit to some huge goal right now, but I just want to get a sense of how I’m doing on these things.” And so, I use like the Tally or The Done family of apps, I find very handy and easy to use there. And it’s like, sure enough, I end up doing way more of the thing just because I’m measuring it.

Ron Friedman
That’s exactly right because anytime you gamify an outcome you’re trying to achieve, you’re going to be more successful at it. I’ll tell you something else from my own personal life which is I got an Apple Watch which tracks your sleep, but also there’s the opportunity for tracking your water consumption. And the more items you track, the better you get at identifying leading indicators of the outcomes you’re trying to achieve.

So, for those unfamiliar, a leading indicator is a metric that projects whether or not you’re going to be successful at an outcome later on, so that’s a lagging indicator. So, just to make this concrete, let’s say I want to be productive at work, that’s my lagging indicator. My leading indicator could be things like how much sleep I got the night before or how much exercise I got the night before.

And so, the more things you track, the better you get at identifying leading indicators of lagging indicators, or, in other words, the outcome you’re trying to achieve. In my case, what I discovered was that water intake leads to better sleep, and better sleep leads to greater productivity. I wouldn’t have known that if I wasn’t tracking all those metrics.

And so, having an app on my Apple Watch that entices me to indicate how much water I’ve consumed, that has been useful for me because it’s elevated my water intake, plus it’s helped me identify a leading indicator of my performance at work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I’m a big believer in adequate hydration, and it didn’t even occur to me that it could lead to better sleep. I will be looking at that. Thank you. Any other thoughts on skill-building?

Ron Friedman
Let’s talk about practice, okay?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ron Friedman
So, when most people think about practice, they think about practicing in the present but it turns out they are neglecting two other critical dimensions of practice. And so, I talk about this in Decoding Greatness as practicing in three dimensions. So, what does it mean to practice in three dimensions? Well, we know about practicing in the present, there’s also practicing in the past, and that is reflective practice in the research.

So, we’ve all heard of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is the idea that has been popularized by Gladwell in the Outliers and Anders Ericsson in the book Peak. Deliberate practice is simply focusing on things that you don’t do particularly well, and then isolating them, doing them frequently, getting the feedback to improve your performance over time.

Reflective practice, or practicing in the past, is simply thinking about what you learned while doing an activity. And so, there’s research out of Harvard Business School showing that if you just take five minutes at the end of the day to write down what you learned today about work, your performance will improve by over 20%. Just that simple exercise of reflecting on your performance at work will improve your performance.

Now, in “Decoding Greatness,” I recommend a tool that anybody can use, which is getting a five-year diary. Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, Pete. The five-year diary is a diary that you can get on Amazon or any bookstore, really, that has 365 pages, one page per day for every day of the year. And within each page, there are three lines in five slots. And the idea here is you just write three lines for your day. You do those for a year. And then, after a year, something fascinating happens, which is you get to see what it is you did on that day one year before.

And so, you’re constantly learning things about yourself, your memory is improving, your identifying patterns in your own behavior, new learnings, new insights. You’re reminded of past challenges that you’ve overcome. You’re building your confidence. Overblown fears that turned out to be nothing. It’s a wonderful, wonderful tool.

And it’s a process that automates reflective practice because it’s not intimidating. It’s just a few lines a day but it forces you to slow down, reflect on what you’ve learned, improving your performance, and also teaching you some lessons about the past. So, that’s practicing in the past.

Practicing in the future is imagery. So, there’s plenty of research, and we have all heard stories about athletes using imagery before a major athletic event. But it turns out there’s also research showing that if a surgeon uses imagery to think through a surgery, they’re likely to make fewer mistakes. Public speakers who visualize their performance on stage end up being more persuasive and less anxious. And there’s research showing that if a piano student is about to learn a new piece, visualizing themselves playing that piece leads them to learn that piece faster.

Now, we could all use visualization in our own lives. And just to be clear, it’s not visualizing success that helps. It’s visualizing the process. So, for example, if tomorrow morning I need to write a proposal, if I visualize myself walking into the office, gathering all the documents I need, and think through how I might structure my piece, that enables me to frontload critical decisions so that when I actually sit down to do it the next day, there’s less thinking involved and a lot more presence. I can actually focus more on doing my job.

And so, I talk all about how you can apply imagery to every aspect of your life, and that’s basically practicing in three dimensions in a nutshell.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And what I love about the visualization, I also find that when I do it, I’m less likely to have, I don’t know, resistance, procrastination, and I have just a little bit more motivation. It just seems like, “Well, no, this is what I’m doing now because I’ve already visualized it.” And I’m less likely to be like, “Oh, but I’m not really in the mood. Maybe I‘ll just do some more email first.” There’s better, more consistent self-disciplined execution when I take some time to visualize.

Ron Friedman
That’s a great observation. And also, just to put a bow on this, there’s also research that shows that athletes who use visualization are actually able to cut down on their physical practice by as much as 50% and not show any decrements in their performance because visualization is that powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds a lot easier.

Ron Friedman
It’s a lot easier. And it just goes to show, like this is a completely underutilized tool that all of us have at our disposal. I think we kind of dismiss it as, I don’t know, kind of like, “Oh, that’s for athletes,” or, “It feels unnatural,” or, “That won’t work for me.” But why not give it a shot? If all it takes is five minutes to visualize the day in advance, and then just kind of do an experiment, see if it helps you. I recommend doing it and it seems like it works for you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Ron, I should ask, is there any research or best practices in the mind’s eye, first person versus third person, are they equally good? Is one more powerful than the other?

Ron Friedman
Well, what ends up happening is that if you consistently use first person, that could get boring for you. And so, you want to toggle between them, and you’ll get a fuller experience. So, in other words, seeing yourself on stage, feeling the glare of the light, holding a cooker in your hand, start there. And after you’ve done that for a while, you can kind of visualize yourself speaking while sitting in the audience.

And a critical piece here is that we’ve been taught that we could just visualize ourselves succeeding, but I actually recommend, every once in a while, thinking about yourself faltering and then continuing and going through with concluding your speech, if we’re talking about a speech in particular. But you want to power through it. And what that does is it teaches you to expect things to potentially go wrong, but having the confidence that you can overcome those challenges anytime they come.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great.
Well, Ron, now can you tell me about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ron Friedman
Well, one of the things I talk about is this idea that we can learn from those around us in a way that’s more methodical that enables us to do our work a little bit more easily. And I think that part of the challenge for reverse-engineering this idea of taking apart other’s work is that there’s a real stigma about copying other’s work and plagiarism and not being fully original. And I think that’s really the wrong way of thinking about how we can best learn from the works of others.

And, in fact, there’s research showing that taking the time to copy someone else’s work makes you more creative not less, and the process of copying, it opens your mind up to new ideas that you hadn’t been considering in your own work. And there’s a great quote that I often think about, which is from Carl Sagan. And Carl Sagan said, “If you want to create an apple pie from scratch, you would need to recreate the universe.” what I love about that quote is that it illustrates that nothing comes from nothing. Everything is built on something else. And that when we think about creativity, we really should think about combining ideas rather than trying to be completely original.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ron Friedman
I don’t know if it’s a favorite book, but it’s one of my favorite books. I just read it with my son, The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling. And she is so good at finding the perfect word and structuring her stories in a way that just keeps you interested and curious. And so, I highly recommend that book “The Ickabog for any age.

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

Ron Friedman
So, I am a Google Doc fanatic, and I have tons and tons and tons of Google Docs. And for a while, I didn’t even know how to organize them. And a friend of mine taught me this approach, which is to use the Google Sheets And then use that to hyperlink to other Google Docs. So, in other words, you can have a directory of all your Google Docs in there, the ones that you frequently use, that you could then easily access and use that as an organization point for your other Google Docs. So, that is a tool that I highly recommend to a lot of my coaching clients because it’s a way of easily accessing documents you frequently use while also having a central location so you’re never searching.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers, they highlight it a lot or quote it back to you frequently?

Ron Friedman
All right. Well, that’s a great question, Pete.

So, “We’re often told that growth requires courage, that the only way to improve is to somehow find the gumption to stomach more risks and embrace situations that make us uncomfortable. “…that’s not the only path to personal development. Tackling difficult challenges and putting everything on the line are simply not the same thing. Know when it comes to developing our skills and growing our abilities, the wise approach isn’t taking more risks. Far wiser to find intelligent opportunities that render risk-taking entirely less risky.”

And so, this is about how businesses grow. And how they do that is by taking tons and tons of risks that actually end up not being particularly risky at all. And just to give you an example of that is they often will use test audiences to determine whether or not an idea is working out.

And so, we can all do that in our own lives by testing our ideas with a smaller group before releasing it to the wider public. And so, I give the example of how Tim Ferriss came up with the title for “The 4-Hour Workweek.” And he had 10 titles that he was considering or something like that. It was a large number. And so, he just purchased Google Adwords for each title, and looked to see what generated the most clicks. He used $100, came up with this amazing title.

It wouldn’t have done it if he had just picked a title, a guess. Using that feedback enabled him to, and obviously wasting $100, to find out what was most effective, was a way of him minimizing the risk in risk-taking.

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

Ron Friedman
I would point them to, if you’re interested in learning more about the book, go check out DecodingGreatnessBook.com. it’s a great website to go to because you get a free course with your purchase of the book. If you’re interested in learning more about me, you can find me at RonFriedmanPhD.com.

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

Ron Friedman
Yeah, I think you should stop assuming that greatness comes from talent or from practice. You don’t have to be born with a particular path to greatness. You don’t necessarily need to put in 10 years of practice. What you do need is a system for learning from the best in the world, and that’s what “Decoding Greatness” offers.

Pete Mockaitis
Ron, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you all the best as you decode more greatness.

Ron Friedman
I appreciate it, Pete.

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

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

 

About Steve

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Steve Dalton Interview Transcript

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

Steve Dalton
It is great to be back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Dalton
Oh, my gosh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Dalton
Right, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Dalton
Oh, absolutely.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Dalton
No, what’s up next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

642: How to Identify Your Career Season and Land Your Dream Job with Ramit Sethi

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Ramit Sethi shares how to find your career season and jobhunting insights for landing your dream job.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes a job the dream job
  2. The question you should ask your career role model
  3. How the briefcase technique can get you the job or raise

About Ramit

Ramit Sethi, author of the New York Times bestseller I Will Teach You To Be Rich, has become a personal development expert to millions of readers in their twenties, thirties, and forties. He started his website, iwillteachyoutoberich.com, as a Stanford undergraduate in 2004, and he now hosts over a million readers per month on his blog, newsletter, and social media. 

Ramit grew up in Sacramento, the son of Indian immigrant parents who taught him the art of negotiating. Ramit went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in technology and psychology from Stanford University and has used this understanding of human behavior to create innovative solutions in self development. Ramit and his team build premium digital products about careers, personal finance, entrepreneurship, psychology, and personal development for top performers. The IWT community includes over 1 million monthly readers, 300,000 newsletter subscribers, and 35,000 premium customers. Follow Ramit on Twitter and Instagram.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Ramit Sethi Interview Transcript

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

Ramit Sethi
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ramit, I’m excited to chat with you for several reasons. And one thing, you wouldn’t know it, but the very name of this podcast was inspired by you, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. I was chatting with my roommate in the bath, not the bathroom, in the kitchen, and we were thinking about different options, and he said, “You know what, I really think How to be Awesome at Your Job is where it’s at. It’s like ‘I Will Teach You To Be Rich.’” I was like, “Yes, exactly. It’s so clear this is what you’re going to get here. If some guys can teach you to be rich, I’m going to show you how to be awesome at your job. That’s what’s up.” So, thank you for that.

Ramit Sethi
Very straightforward. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Word. Well, straightforward is one of your specialties and you’ve got a whole lot of straightforward wisdom in your course Find Your Dream Job 2.0. Tell us, kind of what’s the big idea or thesis behind the whole thing here?

Ramit Sethi
When people talk about a rich life, it’s funny, you ask them, “What is your rich life?” and they almost always say one of three things. They say, “I want to do what I want when I want.” And I go, “Well, what do you want to do?” And then they just stare at me blank because they’ve never actually thought beyond that answer. So, that’s one.

The second one is they say, “I want to have a million bucks,” which is fine, but a million bucks, if you’re 60 versus 30 or if you live in Manhattan versus Topeka, Kansas is completely different. And the third and most haunting answer they give me is, “I just want to pay off my debt.” So, to them, their rich life is simply getting to zero.

Well, one of the things that’s been happening more recently, especially online, is people talking about freedom and looking down on jobs, basically saying, “If you have to work at a job, you’re a loser because only entrepreneurs are successful, etc., etc.” Now, first of all, I’m an entrepreneur but I’m personally offended when people say this because that’s just not true.

The majority of people make their wealth through a full-time job. There’s also lots of good reasons to work at a job. You can create something together that’s bigger than you can ever create alone. You can learn skills that you could never learn alone. You can have an impact, and on and on and on. And I happen to know this first hand because I have coworkers, employees who work with me to create an amazing business and help millions of readers.

So, I just want to first start off by saying let’s get rid of this misconception that a lot of people on Twitter are talking about, which is that if you have to get a job, you’re a loser. That’s BS. A job is a perfectly valid way towards a rich life, being an entrepreneur is a perfectly valid way towards a rich life. We choose.

So, with that said, I wanted to help people find a dream job, not just a normal job, not just a job where you’re like, “Oh, God, it’s Sunday evening. Ah, I have to take a deep sigh thinking about what I’m going to do tomorrow.” But, really, the tactics that top performers use to find jobs that pay them well, that challenge them, so that was the origin behind the Dream Job program.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so finding dream jobs, sounds like a great thing to do. Tell us, there are a lot of career coaches and voices out there in the world, what’s kind of distinctive about your approach?

Ramit Sethi
Well, when I started out in college, I had an odd hobby which was I love to interview. And so, I got a small group of my friends together. This was our hobby, we love to interview, so we’d get together, we’d compare notes, “What did they ask you? What did you say?” And we started landing job after job. So, I received job offers at top-tier companies like Google, Intuit, a multi billion dollar hedge fund, and one of the key differences with many career options out there is there’s lots of people who can give you on a resume, you know, 1.25-inch for margins. Irrelevant when you’re looking at top-tier jobs.

So, I always have a philosophy which is study the best. And if I want to find a job, I want to find people who have gotten jobs at top companies because they understand the game at a completely different level than everybody else. So, after I graduated and I had these job offers, I wondered if it was just me. Sometimes you can just be very good at something, and I decided I wanted to help some of my friends to see if I could teach this to them.

So, I remember one of my early friends, she had dropped out of law school and she was feeling very despondent because her parents and family expected her to become a lawyer. She’s like, “What am I supposed to do? I have all this debt.” I said, “I’ll help you find a job but you have to do everything I tell you.” And she was like, “Okay.” And she didn’t think she had any transferable skills. Of course, we all do. We just don’t know how to position them. So, I helped her get a job at a top tier Wall Street company. And then two and a half, three years later, she came to me, and said, “Can you help me again?” She switched to technology and got another top-tier job there.

So, over the course of the last 10 years, I’ve helped thousands of people find their dream jobs, switch industries, get substantial raises from $10,000 to $80,000, and that’s really what separates the material that we teach from the average career coach out there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, one distinction you assured is, “Hey, we got some results. Shebam! That’s what it’s about.” That’s awesome. Well done. And so then, how was the approach towards those results different than maybe the mainstream?

Ramit Sethi
Let’s take the most common advice in the career space when you’re looking for a job. What do you it is? If people look for a job, what’s the most common advice that they run into?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know, follow your passion, see a bunch of things online.

Ramit Sethi
Yes. Oh, my God, both of them. It’s just drives everybody nuts, right? As if you’re supposed to go outside in the rain, open your mouth and lift it up towards the sky, and passion just rains down into your mouth. That’s not how it works, my friends. And then, “Oh, let me see. I don’t like my marketing manager job. Hmm, one day my boss finally says something disrespectful to me and I decide to leave, what am I going to do? I’m going to go to some random job search website. I’m going to type in ‘marketing manager’ the very job title that I don’t like and then I’m going to delegate my job search to an algorithm and upload my resume and wait.” What a passive approach to life. What a passive approach to the eight plus hours a day you spend in your job which turns into a career.

I want to propose a totally different approach. So, first off, if you are going for a $250,000 a year executive position, the way that you approach your job search, the companies, your informational interviews, is going to be completely different than if you are a lawyer transitioning to being a social worker. Completely different. So, I want to start by introducing this concept which you will not have heard anywhere else called career seasons.

Just like in life we have different seasons, we dress differently, we travel differently, we have the same in our own lives for our careers. So, let me give myself as an example. When I was in my 20s, I loved working hard, I was willing to work weekends, 60, 70 hours a week, no problem because why? I wanted to grow and more money, more responsibility, more skills. That was the growth season. And some of you listening right now, you’re in growth season. You’re like, “Yeah, pay me $15,000 more I’ll put in all the time you want.”

Okay, what happens as we get a little older in life? Some of us have families, elderly parents, hobbies, and we decide, “You know what, I think I want to focus on my lifestyle. Yes, I want to perform at work but I’m going to prioritize a job that lets me have a lifestyle outside of work, maybe pick up my kids at 3:00 p.m.” And then, for some of us, for example, the lawyer who decides they want to be a beekeeper, “I’m sick of being a lawyer. Okay, I’m out of here.” They want to completely reinvent themselves. They are in the reinvention season.

So, if you are going to a career coach or a random website, how can you expect to find your dream job if you’re getting the same advice as a lawyer reinventing themselves or a senior executive gunning for a half a million dollar a year job? You first start, as we teach in our dream job program, how to find your career season. And you can only choose one, not two. That’s the most common mistake. You choose one and then we show you exactly how to filter and find the right jobs for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that was a handy framework right there in terms of those are three very different flavors. And so, let’s talk about growth then. Yeah, I got to pick one. That’s what I want to go for as the best fit for most of us listening, although, personally, I think I’ve recently emerged from growth into lifestyle.

Ramit Sethi
Wait, wait, before we go on. Can you just tell us, how did you know you switched because there are always telltale clues? How did you know you switched to lifestyle?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose it’s like, I guess, I think about it financially in terms of I don’t see any reason for me to work more to earn more. I could work less and earn less, but, fortunately, the way my business is working, I work less and earn about the same. So, it seems like I can do that and I’d like to do that and, you know, got two kids and a wife, and they’re toddlers. How did I know? I think it’s just more and more times bumping up against something, it’s like, “Why am I trading more hours of which are scarce for more dollars which are, hey, fortunately, these days, not as scarce? This doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.” And so, yeah, those kinds of things.

Ramit Sethi
Well, that’s awesome and I hope everyone listening really think about if that resonates with you because, for example, when I was 22, everything you just said would’ve made zero sense to me. I’d be like, “What are you talking about trading? I have infinite time. Get out of my way. I want to grow my career. I want to get promoted,” all that stuff.

But you’re completely right. When you have toddlers, when you’re married, when you have the financial stability to really think about, “What do I want with my limited time every day?” Then, suddenly, you may recalculate, or you may say, “You know what, I love growth. I’m going to double-down on this.” So, anyway, thanks for sharing that. It’s very insightful.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. My pleasure. So, let’s say folks are in the growth season and they’re thinking, “Let’s do it up. Let’s find a new opportunity that’s going to mean more fun, more impact, more money, more responsibility, more learning, more, more, more,” how do they go about it?

Ramit Sethi
The typical way, as we know, is go update your resume and then put it on a website. That’s fine if you want to compete with five other million people who are doing the same thing. I prefer to narrow down my job search, and this is what we teach our dream job students, so that you can answer this question, “What is your dream job?” When I ask people that, they say things like, “I want to help people.” Okay, I do too. But what I really want you to be able to do is to answer that question with something like this, “I want to work at a B2C technology company in the Bay Area which has between 15 to 50 people, as a marketing manager or senior marketing manager.”

That is extremely focused. And when you have a crisp answer like that, suddenly, you can identify the 10 to 20 companies that match, and, like a shark, you can start circling it. And I’ll talk about what do you do when you circle those companies. But remember, you are a shark. You’re going after your target versus, “Let me throw my resume up in the wind and see where it lands.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And how does one arrive at that level of specificity?

Ramit Sethi
Well, you want to start off by saying, “What is my dream role? And what is my dream company?” So, dream role, a lot of people, again, they sort of just fell into the current job title they have. They graduated college, they became whatever title, and then maybe they got promoted or they just kind of got bumped along. And so, here they wake up, they blink their eyes, and they say, “Okay, I guess I’m a blank, blank, blank.” And then when they search, they search for the same title they have.

We want to start off by saying, “What skills do I have? And what do I want to be doing?” So, I’m a marketing coordinator, marketing manager, insurance salesperson, etc., and you can start by doing the research, which we show you how to find other people who have that title or had that title, and say, “Do I like what they do? Do I like their career trajectory?”

The best part about doing this research is you have a crystal ball into other people like you. So, if you are, I’m just using marketing manager, it could be any job title. If you are a marketing manager, you can look in the future and see what other people, who used to be a marketing, are three years from now. Senior marketing manager, maybe eventually CMO. Is that what you want? What does a CMO do? Okay, great. Now I’ve turned a job into a career and I’m looking forward. Awesome. That’s part one.

You walk out of there saying, “Great. I know my job title. Now, company.” Most of us sort of look around at the companies around us geographically and we go, “Okay, I’ll apply to a few companies and wait.” Again, that’s the approach that everybody takes. Nowadays, particularly if you want to work remotely, there are lots of opportunities and ways to do it. So, when we do our research and we show our dream jobs students, they start off with the companies they know I’ll just give you an example. We had a woman who worked at Guitar Center, you know, those places where you go and buy a guitar.

Ramit Sethi
She’s in some kind of marketing role. And then she got promoted, she ended up working at Disney, and then she went and got promoted and worked at some other entertainment company in L.A. And as I was following her career on LinkedIn, it occurred to me, “Wow! This lady, first of all, she’s a top performer. She’s gotten promoted every two to three years. Second, let me look at her trajectory.” For example, if I was starting out, I would’ve never thought of working at Guitar Center. It’s just not in my purview. But guess what? Someone who worked at Guitar Center then went to work at a world-class company like Disney.

And, suddenly, I’m saying, “Wait a minute. Can I work at Guitar Center? What other companies are similar to Guitar Center?” So, you can piece the puzzle together, as we show you how to do this research, and you end up with a spreadsheet of roughly five or so job titles and 20 or so companies, dream companies, and now you start putting them together and going out and circling your targets. That’s how you do it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, now with Guitar Center, that turned up in LinkedIn sort of, I think about that Wayback Machine, you know, sort of like back in time at a previous phase. So, is the method by which we surface those Guitar Center opportunities thinking, “Well, what’s the super dream in terms of like long term?” and then say, “Well, who’s got it? And what did I do before?” Is that kind of the strategy?

Ramit Sethi
Yeah, that’s absolutely one part of the strategy. Yes, you want to look at where people are today. Everyone has got two or three dream companies in their head, and Disney tops the list for a lot of people. Great. Let’s look at what marketing managers or senior marketing managers at Disney do and what did they used to do. Now, we can start to trace it back. So, that becomes a very powerful reverse-engineering technique.

But there’s also more to it, right? We can sit at our computers and Google around LinkedIn. But what if we actually talked to this person who now works at Disney or the next company? We’ll say, “Hey, can you give me 15 minutes of your time? I’ve studied your career. It’s fascinating to me. I dreamed of one day working at Disney.” And this is a classic informational interview.

First of all, people are terrified of doing this. They get all in their head, “Oh, why would anyone talk to me? I don’t know what to say.” Well, guess what, we just decided to show you the exact script for when you have these calls. This is exactly what you say. It turns a lot of people will take your call, especially if you approach them in the right way.

And so, you get on the call with this person, him or her, and you can do it through Zoom, and you say, “You know what, I wonder if you could just tell me how did you go from here to here? What was the thought process? Why this company not that?” And, suddenly, you’ve looked at their LinkedIn but now you’re going so much deeper. They’re going to actually tell you why they made those decisions.

And, of course, if you impress them, which you can in not too difficult of a way, those people often say, “Hey, if you decide to apply, let me know. Send me your resume. I’ll make sure it gets to the right person.” So, suddenly, we’re completely side-stepping everyone applying through the front door and just waiting for the black hole doom to reject them, and you’ve got someone who either works or used to work at the company who’s recommending you for an interview.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s good. What I like about that informational interview approach is it’s a bit different in terms of we’re zooming into the thought process and decision-making of that person and modeling a potential career after them as oppose to merely gathering fundamentals about their current job, which I guess you could do at the same time, like, “What’s it like working there? What do you like about it? What do you not like about it?” It seems like there’s another level of richness there associated with, “How are you thinking about the career game in ways that can inform how I’m thinking about the career game?”

Ramit Sethi
Well, I love how you described those layers. You see, when people think about informational interviews, as I said, a lot of people are afraid to even pick up the phone. But when you really understand how to use all the layers of an informational interview, it’s almost a no-brainer that you need to be doing these in your job search.

I’ll give you an example. So, let’s say that I’m in the lifestyle season, okay? I need to pick up my kids at 3:00 p.m. every day. And so, I’ve narrowed it down to three dream companies and I call somebody who used to work at the company, I say, “You know what, I’ve followed your career. I’m thinking about applying to this company and I just wanted to understand what’s it like to work there?” And they say, “Well, first of all, nobody ever takes any vacation.” And I say, “Oh, really? Why is that?” He says, “Well, it’s a really hard-charging culture, and they bonus you heavily but nobody takes a vacation. And I would say I worked two Saturdays a month.”

Well, guess what. If I’m in lifestyle season, “Thank you so much. I really appreciate the feedback.” That’s an instant no on your spreadsheet. Think about it. So many of us never even get clear about what our career season is so we start off just arbitrarily applying to all these jobs and then our application doesn’t match up with the culture of the company. How could it, right? Because if this company is hard-charging, and you’re talking about, “Oh, I’m looking for work-life balance,” they’re just like, “Get out of here.” And, of course, you never hear back why you got rejected.

So, following the dream job approach lets you unpeel all these layers and, yes, you’re frontloading the work. You’re doing more work on the front-end and it’s going to take you a little bit longer. But I would rather spend two times the amount of time and get eight times the results, then arbitrarily send out my resume and just wait to get back a flood of rejections or arbitrary interviews.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Yeah, so that’s great stuff. Let’s just keep rolling through the process here. So, we’re getting some great clarity, and we’re doing the informational interviews, and in so doing, we’re zeroing in, getting a clearer and clearer picture of what’s up. And let’s just say our dreams have come true or partially true, and we’ve got an interview scheduled at a promising opportunity, what do we do?

Ramit Sethi
You need to have the perfect answers for the obvious questions you’re going to get. So, let’s start at the very beginning. Most people walk in with the mental model of, “I’m going in the interview to answer questions.” Wrong. If that is your mental model of walking in, you’ve already lost. Your job is to communicate your key messages in an interview. Now, yes, of course, you’re going to answer questions. Of course. But if you don’t communicate your key messages, then all you are is just a random person. You’re like a puppet answering questions.

Pete Mockaitis
That mindset shift is just like every political debate ever, “I don’t care what you’ve asked me. I’m going to convey my talking points.”

Ramit Sethi
That’s correct. And I have to say I hate using politicians as an example of effective communicators because sometimes I just want to strangle them. But they absolutely get their key messages across. And I’ll give you an example. So, this starts all the way back at your resume.

When you write your resume, again, people think that your resume, the job is designed to share your chronology. Nobody cares about your chronology. Your job is you’ve got 10 seconds of a hiring manager’s attention, “What is your narrative? What is the story that somebody gets after looking at your resume for 10 seconds and then they close their eyes?” For me, it was the technology and psychology guy who understands human behavior. Okay, so that started with my resume and it flowed from my cover letter. And then when I walked in the interview, that was one of my key messages on and on and on. It’s all consistent.

So, for everyone right now, if you’re listening, you’re like, “What the hell is this guy talking about?” Pull out your resume, close your eyes, and then open it for 10 seconds. Close your eyes again. What is the narrative or how would you describe this person whose resume you just looked at? If the answer is from 1986 to 1999, they worked at XYZ, you’re never going to get that job. So, you want to start off with your narrative. Then you walk in the interview. You have a narrative; you have your key messages.

Here are some questions that you’re going to get in your interview that you need to have the perfect answers for. “Why do you want to work here?” “Tell me about yourself.” “What did you do at your last job?” and “Do you have any questions for me?” Those are table stakes. You’re going to get them so you better have the perfect answer and you better be able to deliver in 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or 90-second-versions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so can you give us the framework then? How do we nail each of those four?

Ramit Sethi
Well, let’s start with “Tell me about yourself.” Well, let’s do a roleplay right now. All right. So, I’m going to ask you that question as if I’m interviewing you and then you just tell me about yourself. This is the best part. Okay, ready? Tell me about yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so not prepped, Ramit.

Ramit Sethi
You got 18 seconds left.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. I know, like some of the right answers but I haven’t worked it in years because I haven’t interviewed.

Ramit Sethi
Ten seconds left.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, Ramit. Well, I’m passionate about discovering, developing, and disseminating knowledge that transforms the experience of people, and through my podcast which reaches over 14 million people how to be awesome at your job, and become the first ever podcast to have courses adapted on LinkedIn Learning. I am thrilled at how I have transformed people’s experience of work away from drudgery into things that light them up, and hear about their victories. So, that’s what I’m into these days.

Ramit Sethi
That was pretty good. I mean, you got a slow start but that was very good. Okay, so, clearly, you’ve talked about yourself before, which I love. I think of interviews as the greatest gift we give ourselves. We get to dress up, we get to talk about ourselves for 45 minutes, and then we get to find out if we were effective communicators or not. It’s binary. Yes or no. I love it.

So, when somebody says, “Tell me about yourself,” most people are not prepared for that question, and they start off by saying something like this, “Well, I was born under a palm tree, and I really love peanut butter, but after I went to college, I was not sure what to do so I was listening to…” and it’s just like, “I don’t care. Nobody cares, okay?” These are questions where you know you’re going to get them so we want to prepare ahead of time and rehearse them so that we can actually be natural in the interview, and it’s a great opportunity for you to also build in your key messages.

So, you might say, “You know, there’s three real things that interest me. The first is technology, that’s why I studied STS when I went to college and that is why I’m really interested in building systems that scale from one-on-one to one-to-a-million. The second part is psychology. I’m really interested in human behavior. So, at my last job, I specifically took on a role of blank, blank, blank, and we focused on doing jobs to be done, research, and customer usability testing before we ever launched the product. And the third thing that I’m really interested in is XYZ.”

Al right, that’s just a very, very simple crisp approximately 20, 25-second answer. Notice that I didn’t go through the chronology because nobody cares. Notice that I focused on my key messages that I’ve already reinforced in my cover letter and resume. What’s the point there? The point is not to talk like me. You need to talk in your own style. But the point is, know what they are really asking. They’re not asking about a chronology. Please stop going through your resume point by point by point. They’ve already read it.

What they want to know are your key messages. What’s interesting? What drives you? Why are you here? So, we want to prepare for these questions ahead of time and have the perfect answers ready.

Pete Mockaitis
And what I really love about that approach there in terms of “There are three key things that interest me,” is you have complete control to hit what your talking points, your core message, and it’s flexible in terms of, surely, you can say something about how something you did in your career fit that interest.

Ramit Sethi
Oh, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s very easy to do.

Ramit Sethi
So, in the program, we brought in people, and you can actually see them interviewing with me, and you can watch people’s before-and-after transformation. It’s quite magical. There are some advanced techniques you can use too. You can use something called verbal values. So, you can do things like this, you can say, “You know, in my last role, we focused on customer usability, did testing, and we were actually able to drive up conversions by 32%. Happy to talk about that if you’d like to. But moving forward, we then moved on to XYZ.”

Okay, notice what I just did. That thing called the verbal value where you dropped down and you say, “Oh, I’m happy to go into that in detail if you’d like,” but you keep moving forward. That gives the interviewer a sense of control and, if they are interested, they go say, “Hey, tell me about that.” And you’re like, “Oh, I’m so glad you asked. First, we start it off by doing ABC, and this produces massive insight.”

In the program, I did another thing which I really love. I brought in hiring managers. And when was the last time you actually had real hiring managers with a hiring budget who sat around a table and told you how they hire people and what they are looking for? Never, because they don’t do this, but we brought them in because I know these hiring managers.

So, they came in, and one of the managers said, “My favorite interviews and the people who always get an offer are the ones who teach me something.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, we brought in somebody who was a performance marketer and they basically said, ‘Let me show you how I ran this campaign last time,’ they pulled up their laptop, and they started walking this person through.’” The interviewer was completely…like her questions were out the door. This interviewee started driving the interview, and that’s exactly what she wanted.

So, what’s the key takeaway there? It’s not, throw the interviewer’s questions out and pull up your laptop. That’s not the point. The point is you have control over your answers, and your hiring manager wants to learn something. They want to see someone who is assertive in the interview.

Pete Mockaitis
And, frankly, it can be kind of boring to have a full day of interviews.

Ramit Sethi
Who are saying the same things, “Oh, I’m really passionate; I love the synergy.” Oh, God, what makes you different than anyone else?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if you learn something new, it’s like, well, one, you’re just sort of stimulated, they’re memorable, and that’s killer. And so, actually, I wanted to specifically ask you about the briefcase technique. And so, we’ve kind of hit that a smidge here. What is the briefcase technique?

Ramit Sethi
The briefcase technique is this powerful concept that we pioneered which is used to get substantial raises, land jobs, or lock in freelance contracts. So, I’ve used this many times and so have my own employees used this with me, and I hired them. So, it works like this.

You walk in whether it’s to get a raise or to land a job, and you say, “You know, from my understanding of speaking to several former coworkers and people who currently work here, I understand that the key strategy right now is to improve customer conversion. And based on that, I’ve actually laid out a 30-, 60-, 90-day plan of what I would do if I began this role on February 1. And would you like me to show it to you?”

What percentage of hiring managers do you think say yes to that question?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, all of them.

Ramit Sethi
One hundred percent, okay, they go, “Yes.” And this is where I made it a little fun. You theatrically pull out your presentation, you can pull it out of a briefcase, or you can turn your laptop around, it doesn’t really matter. But it’s kind of fun to pull it out of a briefcase and just let the silence fill the air, and you say, “Here you go. Here, I made a copy for you.”

You literally walk them through, whether it’s a 30-, 60-, 90-day plan, or a proposal for a strategic how you would drive some strategy that they’re working on, or whatever that your plan is, and you watch the hiring manager’s jaw drop. Why? Number one, no one has ever done this to them. Number two, you’ve actually done the research and come in with a plan.

Now, your plan doesn’t have to be completely right. How could it, especially if you’re working outside the company? But you’ve clearly done your research by using those informational interviews, by listening to what the CEO has said in the press and on recent podcasts, and you’ve put together, generally, a pretty thoughtful proposal. Maybe even you’ve included some metrics that you’ve driven before. When they look at this and they compare you to every other candidate who goes in there talking about passion and just living under a palm tree, the difference is clear.

Now, we’ve actually included briefcase technique examples in the program. One of them, for example, is a student of ours, Jesse, who used it to get an $80,000 raise, and you can see the actual document that he presented so you can see how it works. We’re showing you not just telling you, and it is very powerful when you go in there for your next raise or you’re switching jobs. You use the briefcase technique with great results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued, when it comes to the raise, that’s a bit of a different context. Is it just sort of like, “Hey, I have a plan and a vision that’s going to create extraordinary value, here it is. Let me go run this.” Is that kind of like the vibe associated with how the raise happens?

Ramit Sethi
A little bit but people pay for performance not necessarily for potential. So, let me flip that and let me walk backwards a little bit. A lot of people have this thing to ask for raises, and one of my charters, one of the things I’ve been talking about for over 15 years is how to negotiate your salary. It’s all over the internet.

And I think one of the big fears, first of all, our culture doesn’t encourage negotiation. We’re absolutely petrified of it. I love negotiating. It’s fun. We get to have a game. Let’s talk about it. And the other thing is a lot of us envision negotiating as, “I’m going to kick down my boss’ door, spin his or her chair around, and then put my hand on and say, “Give me some money.” Well, of course, you’re going to get a no if that’s your approach. Let’s take a slightly different approach.

Here’s what you do. Let’s say you know that your performance review is coming up in six months. You go in your boss’ office, first you set up a time, and you say, “You know what, I really like to make sure that I’m a top performer. Am I hitting all the metrics of my role to be a top performer? So, I’d really like clarity on what that takes.” And you work through this process and you come out with, let’s say, three KPIs, and you say, “Great. I’m going to send you an email just to remind you and I will update you every other Friday.” Great.

So, now, that’s part one. Part two is you got to do the work. You got to hit those numbers. You got to deliver on what you both committed to. And, of course, you say, “If I am able to achieve these goals, I’d love to discuss a compensation adjustment.” “Okay, whatever. We’ll talk about that later.” So, you hit the numbers, you’re documenting this every other Friday, sending an update, no surprises. And then, step three, when your review comes up, that is where you initiate the briefcase technique.

You walk in, you say, “Six months ago, we discussed becoming a top performer. These were the key metrics we laid out. As you know, I’ve been updating you every other Friday. I’d like to show you the final numbers. We hit it. I’d now like to discuss something else. I pulled research.” And we show you how to find out what you are actually worth. Many people are underpaid by $10,000 to $15,000. We find this routinely. “Here’s what I’m worth on the market. I’d like to discuss a compensation adjustment and here’s what I see in the marketplace.”

What have you done now? You’ve done a ton of work, you got micro commitments from your boss all along the way, you’ve, most importantly, delivered and you can also pull out what you plan to do for the next six to 12 months. At that point, you’ve given yourself an irresistible shot at a raise.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you deliver the goods and you show them what’s coming up next, and you show them the market compensation figures.

Ramit Sethi
That’s the most important part. Look, you can show them what’s coming up next. That’s optional and that’s nice to have, but you already committed to what it takes to be a top performer. Now you are a top performer, you should be compensated as a top performer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Well, we talked about Bob Cialdini a moment ago. Like, the reciprocity is just power is just so huge there. Like, if I were that hiring manager, I would feel like the world’s biggest jerk, if I was that boss, if I said anything but “Yes, of course. Thank you.” I would feel like the world’s biggest jerk. Now, you might still get some bureaucratic hierarchical corporate whatever, like, “Well, unfortunately, Ramit, the budget doesn’t really allow for…” If you get one of those meritocracy busters, hey, how do you respond?

Ramit Sethi
Well, we have counter arguments for all those. Here are the common ones you get, “We have a standard compensation policy,” “Times are tough right now,” “Maybe next year,” “The budget doesn’t allow it.” So, look, sometimes that is true and it is critical…we have a framework we suggest about how to know whether it’s an employee’s market or an employer’s market.

So, for example, if you’re going through a deep recession, and you walk in and say, “Give me $10,000 more,” that’s unlikely to happen. Your power is diminished at that point. However, just like seasons, things change and it can be an employee’s market. You need to know that because if you don’t, you walk in blind and you just don’t look very intelligent when you ask for something that just doesn’t fit the marketplace.

But let’s say you do and they give you the sort of standard thing. There are responses which we show you in our negotiating section. And here’s what I want you to know. I want you to know that your boss or your hiring manager has a budget, and their job is to try to get you to work, and they want to save as much as they can so they can deliver all the extra money to the top performer on their team. So, you will often find this is that the top performer on the team gets the lion’s share of the budget and everyone else fights over those 1% cost of living increases.

If you have demonstrated you are a top performer, if you have extracted micro commitments and you’ve delivered, then you need to make it really clear that you’re worth it. If not, you need to ask them what’s it going to take to change this. And if they have no clear answer, then you may need to start considering switching to find your dream job.

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

Ramit Sethi
Just a dream job is something that you can do once, twice, three times. It shifts over the course of your lifetime. So, I asked somebody on Twitter, I ask a lot of people on Twitter, “What is a dream job to you?” And one of the most common responses I got back was, “It doesn’t exist.” So, I reached out to a few of these people, I said, “Do you know anyone around you who has a dream job?” And they said, “No.”

Well, of course, if you and your friends all hate your jobs then, of course, you think a dream job doesn’t exist. The fact that they’re listening to this podcast means, of course, they do know that a dream job does exist. But I want to emphasize it because it’s so uncommon in our culture. You ask people, “How is work going?” And some of their common responses are, “Work is work,” or, “Just waiting until Friday,” I hate that. I want us to go to a place where we’re excited, where we’re challenged, where we’re compensated, where we can work remotely. So, that is why I’m so fired up about a dream job as a core part of your rich life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. A favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Ramit Sethi
Oh, I love the Asch experiments in conformity. I love so many of Elliot Aronson’s studies as described in his book The Social Animal, and Lee Ross on the Fundamental Attribution Error, who I studied under in college. It just blew my mind in social psychology.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ramit Sethi
I got to say The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool that you use to be awesome at your job?

Ramit Sethi
A favorite tool. My calendar. It’s simple.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Ramit Sethi
My favorite habit is having a leisurely morning. That’s my favorite habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s dig in. What’s going down in this leisurely morning?

Ramit Sethi
Well, I think the best mornings are decided the night before, the week before, the year before. So, when I wake up, everything, I know exactly what I’m going to do.

And, by the time I get to start working, this is my favorite part, I double-click into my calendar and I have all the links are perfectly placed in the same place every time so I can click it. The link takes me to the perfect place in the document to just begin typing. Now, I know I sound like a psycho to everyone listening, you’re like, “This guy is crazy. Why is he talking about this?” But I want everything to be in its perfect place. And so, it gives me a lot of joy to know that all these things have been properly arranged so I can just click one link and everything is just right in front of me.

Pete Mockaitis
It is a beautiful thing. I don’t think it’s crazy at all.

Ramit Sethi
Oh, really? Oh, my God, I found a kindred spirit here. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And tell me, is there a particular nugget you share, a Ramit quote that you’re known for, and people cite over and over again?

Ramit Sethi
Oh, I believe in spending extravagantly on the things you love as long as you cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.

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

Ramit Sethi
You can go to iwt.com/podcastdj or you can find me on Instagram @ramit.

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

Ramit Sethi
Okay. Thank you for asking. I would love it for anyone listening, find me on Twitter, Instagram, my newsletter, and send me a note telling me you listened to this podcast, and tell me what your dream job is. That’s what I want to know. I’m going to leave it as broad as that but I want to hear your specifics. Get down to the details. What is your dream job?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ramit, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks. This is just best.

Ramit Sethi
Thanks. This was a blast.