Staying Focused, or Why Every Career Interaction Is Critically Important

I have a “few projects” that I am working on to get back into corporate. When I responded by asking them to give me an overview, that was when the picture became unclear.

Then the stumbling started and in the end there was a mishmash of  “give this one a call,” “follow-up this with a meeting,” ” reach out to …” This was not a strategic-driven approach.

When I opened the email, it was a short note [one large paragraph] and a resume. This was in response to someone reaching out to me for assistance to help make an introduction for my business trip to Nigeria this week.

To say I was underwhelmed is an understatement.

What would be your approach?

Both the people who reached out were senior level — a C-Level leader and an Executive Vice President. I was shocked. What I conveyed to each of them is what if I were interviewing you? Would you be impressed in the delivery that you just gave?

Although it was simply a phone call to a friend, every discussion should always be on point. I could almost see their head down in affirmation to my statement.

Yes, the threshold is higher. If you are a senior level executive and looking to either get back in the game or move to another company, every approach has to show value. Does it convey that you have thought through each approach? Does it convey that you are someone who they should meet, or better still, follow-up with a request for more information?

Every interaction, whether you are in project or career mode, should be used as a pitch adjustment. You should always walk away from the interaction thinking “how did I do?” How did it come across?” Yes folks, today it is that important.

I remember a few years back when I was watching a performance at the Chicago Improv. I was amazed by the on the spot or off the cuff spontaneous comments that just came to them as an inspiration. They had to respond to what was given in the scene, and if you did not know better, you would literally think that they had rehearsed for hours.

Does it equate??

Yes, life is improvisation. Every day we are afforded opportunities to respond based on what we are asked or the situation we are in. I asked both of these different individuals’ different questions, and they were so ill prepared that I could not believe that they had those prior high-level roles.

Their responses simply did not equate with their previous titles, and their responses certainly did not equate with the position they were seeking.

When we respond to questions in a hiring situation, the people asking the questions are clearly wondering if you will respond with something they expect  you to say, or, if you’ll give them something completely unexpected. This means that you shouldn’t respond with some canned, obvious reply such as “I want to be in HR because I love people.” That gem was from an accountant/finance person wanting to make a career move.

We stand out when we let our inhibitions go and come up with an unexpected story or narrative that makes the interviewer know you are a strong connection. Something like this is a better way to go, for example: “I worked on a project recently with HR and could immediately see that with my finance and data background, that this would be a perfect fit as HR is moving more toward using data as a framework for people decisions.”

In the end, you need to be who you are. Never try to give canned responses in trying to be something or someone who you are not. If you do, your listener will see through you in a heartbeat

After seeing the Chicago Improv, I did some research on their methods used and came across the technique “Yes.” What this teaches is that you to accept the statements and respond building your dialogue: Yes, and ……………, or, I have given that some thought to that and …………………

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Perfect snapshot

I’m always amazed when someone tells me their goals and there is no specificity to them. Of course, my view of your goal to become an HR manager could be different from your view. But if you say, for example, “I want to be an HR manager working in the media industry because I have an intense thirst for digitization and how it will be one of the driving forces in all businesses in years to come,” well, THAT is a perfect snapshot of your goal.

As a blogger, I always try to think of the headline. What is the hook that will draw the reader in? I try to write from that perspective. If I can’t get that in place, I use a snapshot that tells the story and use it to visually stimulate building a narrative around that.

When you interact with people, whether it is a business pitch or a career pitch, ask yourself the question, ”Am I being specific? Did I cut out all the ambiguity?”

Look at it every day

One of the techniques I have always used is to keep a career document which outlines the goals that I have based on my current state, future state, and each action that I am taking as I move ahead. When I sit down at my computer, that is one of the first documents that I open and keep open. I may not update it each time I sign on, but as I click around I see it and I think it.

By keeping track this way, I can always review where I am, judge my progress, and make adjustments.

One of my goals upon arriving in Saudi Arabia was to get involved with the HR community in the Middle East. Coming from New York, and after working for some esteemed brands, I knew that I had a story to tell that would be compelling.

I wanted to book as many speaking opportunities as possible. After research, I found the conferences and started making connections to the event producers. I had honed my story to the point that I could rattle it off in my sleep. As I look at my schedule today, have two keynotes and two presentations booked at four different conferences over the next few months.

This whole career thing is a marathon. and as with any marathon, it takes training each and every day. We can no longer simply cruise on auto pilot.

Yes, we have to use every opportunity we get to not only tell our story, but to keep it sharp and focused, too.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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1 Comment on “Staying Focused, or Why Every Career Interaction Is Critically Important

  1. It is the ability to come across as authentic and engaging that needs to come through in every interaction related to your goal. It comes down to brand building.

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