Tag Archives: promotion

Getting Amazing Results on your resume

Extract from Amazing Resumes by Jim Bright & Jo Earl, published by Jist

This post covers issues to do with CV layout, and how to deal with your education and qualifications on your resume.  Before the extract is a short background to the book.

Background

The material comes from my book Amazing Resumes.  This book is the culmination of over 10 years of scientific research into what gets resumes shortlisted.  My co-author Jo (now Dr Jo!) Earl completed her Masters Thesis in Organizational Psychology working with recruiters on what gets resumes shortlisted. Her work and that of many more of my team is included in this book. It means the advice you get has been demonstrated empirically to impress recruiters.

Why not become part of growing international movement who have found this book to be an essential part of their job search strategy.  The sister title in the UK, Brilliant CV, is a decade old best-seller in its 4th edition just out.  In Australia, Resumes that get shortlisted continues to be a leader, and the book is now in a Chinese version too!

We are proud of this book, and if you are a professional advising others or know someone who needs some help, we invite you to get hold of a copy through Amazon as we are sure you’ll find it will support your important work and most importantly help others get that all important job..

Amazing Resumes by Jim Bright and Jo Earl

Which Resume Is for Me?

Our extensive work has found that hiring managers prefer resumes that look conventional. This has been found in studies throughout the world. Most managers are conventional people, and they have a clear idea of what they expect to see when they read a resume. Reading a resume is a bit like walking into a restaurant—we know what to expect. In a restaurant, we know that there will be tables and a menu, that we will be asked for our order, and that we will have to pay for the food. We might even expect to leave a tip! Receiving an unusual resume would be like walking into the restaurant and seeing no tables or serving staff. We might figure out that there is a food vending machine to use, or alternatively, we might just walk out. Similarly, an employer might persevere with an unusual resume, or he or she might just reject it.

Before we look at some actual examples, we will take a look at what things you should put in your resume. The following is our list of important elements of a resume.

Tip: Use our 4-S rule: Keep it Simple, Structured, Succinct, and Significant.

Essential Contact Details

Always include your

  • Name you want to be known by—for example, “James Bright” and not “James Edward Harold Bright”
  • Home address
  • Telephone number
  • Fax number
  • E-mail address

Only give contact details for places where you are prepared to be contacted by prospective employers. If receiving a call or an e-mail at your current workplace might lead to embarrassing questions from your boss, do not give work contact details. Of course, if you want to include an e-mail address, it is now very easy to get a free e-mail account on the Web from companies like Hotmail (www.hotmail.com).

You must put your name, address, and telephone number on the first page of your resume.

Education and Training

If you haven’t had any formal education, obviously you omit these elements and should be thinking of using the functional or the structured interview resume. Have a look at the ideal candidate you constructed from the job ad in Chapter 4. What qualifications is our potential employer looking for? These qualifications are the ones to focus on.

Tip: Do not bore the reader by listing every qualification you have obtained—keep it to the relevant and impressive stuff.

Go through the list of qualifications you made in chapter 6 and determine which are relevant to the job. List the relevant ones in order. Some qualifications, like a college degree, are regarded as relevant information in most circumstances. Other qualifications, such as a first-aid course, may be seen as useful for some jobs, but would look odd being listed for others.

Although we have not researched where your educational details are best positioned, we find that what works best depends on how important and impressive your qualifications are to the position. Ask yourself the questions “How important are my qualifications to this position?” “How impressed will employers be by my degree I have or the school that I attended?” “What is most impressive, my qualifications or my work achievements?” If the answers to these questions are in favor of your educational qualifications, then place them toward the top of your resume (after the career objective statement or competencies and before your work achievements). If you answer in favor of your work achievements, then place educational details after your work details.

Our colleagues agree you should take a tailored approach to positioning details of your education where they are needed most. Wendy Enelow, author of the Expert Resumes series of resume guides, recommends that you “load” the resume—upfront—with your greatest selling points. Susan Britton Whitcomb, author of Résumé Magic (2003), has an excellent three-year rule of thumb for determining where to position your education. If you received a degree that is relevant to the vacancy in the last three years, place it toward the top of your resume. If you graduated more than three years ago and you have relevant work achievements to be proud of, place these first. Louise Kursmark, author of Sales and Marketing Resumes for $100,000 Careers and many other books, suggests that education be viewed as a foundational credential rather than as a key selling point. Remember, don’t waste prime resume “real estate” on something that will never sell.

Tip: Be clear and concise, and always refer back to the job ad to ensure that you’re remaining relevant.

When you do include your educational qualifications, you should order them as follows:

  • Highest postgraduate qualification—Masters or Ph.D., the subject, and the university at which the degree was earned
  • Highest undergraduate qualification—the degree, the subject, and the university at which the degree was earned
  • College qualifications—what college you attended and your grade-point average

This point may not apply to many people at all, but should you have a Ph.D., bear in mind that the title of Ph.D. dissertations can often appear to be so obscure or trivially narrow as to detract from a great achievement. Believe us, we have heard the sniggers that sometimes accompany Ph.D. award presentation ceremonies! If you have a very specialized title that is not going to be directly relevant to the job you’re applying for, stick to the subject discipline name (such as chemistry, physics, English, or psychology). For example, if you’re applying for a research role, a title such as “An investigation into the antecedents and consequences of brown squirrel mating rituals” might be better referred to as “Biology”—unless you are applying for a job that requires you to specifically monitor squirrels.

If you have a degree, it is probably not necessary to include your high school results unless they are exceptional. A degree will lead most employers to credit you with a certain amount of intelligence.

What might be useful is to list a few subjects you covered in high school, to give an indication of your versatility. For instance, if you have an arts degree, it is probably worth listing “courses included mathematics, chemistry, and statistics” or other numerate subjects studied at high school, as this gives an indication of well-rounded abilities. The opposite applies to science graduates, who might list English and history if applicable. List any extra languages that you speak, but see our later section on bias.

If there is any special thesis topic or aspect of your studies that is particularly relevant to the job, mention it here. With all qualifications, do not assume that the reader will understand what they are.

If you are applying for a job in the same country and state in which you were trained, and the qualification system has not changed in the last 10 years, it is safe to assume that the employer will understand the meaning of your qualifications. Otherwise, do not assume anyone else will understand your qualifications, and if in doubt explain what they mean.

Tip: When applying for a job in another state or country, don’t assume employers will understand what your qualifications mean. Explain your grades and degrees in the employer’s local system.

You can buy a copy of Amazing Resumes here

Career development better than sex or an alternative?

Career development has a yearly low point about June, but the good news is we are on an upward curve, until about September.  After that, if you are a Career Development professional or careers author looking at launching a book, forget about it and take a long vacation till January.  I am basing my advice on the number of people who are searching on Google using the terms Career Development.  I have been playing with Google trends, one of their analytic services that provides information on the volumes of searches on certain keywords over time.  The trend pattern for the search term “Career Development” is in the first graphic below.

The pattern is interesting because it repeats more or less in the same fashion every year since 2004 (the earliest that Google Trends presents).  Within each calendar year, searches peak in the Jan- March quarter and tail off to a low around mid-year.  They then build again in the third quarter before collapsing catastrophically in December.

Looking at the graph, it is interesting that major events such as the global financial crisis do not show up in terms increased search activity.  It suggests that “career development” is a search that people make irrespective of global financial conditions, but not irrespective of personal concerns – for instance swopping career planning for Christmas shopping in December.

The figures are largely dominated as you’d expect by US searches.  The data for other countries is generally so small and incomplete that it shows no sensible pattern.  So the other possible “story” in this data could be that career development searches peak after major holiday times.  I.e. straight after Christmas, after Easter, and at the end of the long summer vacation and do I detect a small peak around Thanksgiving (towards the end of November) as well?  Well it is hardly news that newspapers are full of “New Years” resolutions and life planning type articles, but the other periods of peaks are less obvious.  Do we need this time away from work to reflect on where we are going?  Is it breathing space that creates the demand for career development ideas?

The second point about these trends that is clear is that the term “career development” is being searched less and less each year.  The downward trend is unmissable, but what is causing it?

Maybe the term “Career Development” is less resonant than it was half a decade ago.  If that is the case, it is ironic given that some professional groups such as the Career Development Association of Australia recently changed their name to include this term.   Equally another group I belong to, the National Career Development Association in the US, may want to take note.  When we compare the search pattern on the simpler term “Careers” we see a very different and more positive story.

Firstly the term is being searched more often than it was.  Are we ready to rebadge as Careers Professionals or CIs – “Careers International” members, which captures the increasingly popular term and takes it global.  Furthermore this search term does seem to be sensitive to world events showing the strong upward trend coinciding with the worldwide economic deterioration.

The term is also more consistently searched throughout the year and does not appear to be as subject to the seasonal variations of the “Career development term”, other than it shows the characteristic terminal drop coinciding with Christmas.  Honestly it’s almost enough to make you an atheist!!

One possibility is that the term “careers” is more closely associated with “jobs” and “employment” whereas “career development” might be seen as a more disconnected, reflective activity. Some support for this hypothesis can be seen in the trend graph for “jobs” which resembles the “careers” search trend graph more than the “career development” search graph.

The term “coaching” also displays seasonal variation and something of a slight decline over the last five years. If anything, the interesting aspect of the coaching search pattern is the apparent peak just before Christmas evident in most years, as well as the mid year slump and end of year shut down.  Not sure what to make of that.  Perhaps people seek coaching to improve their performance in a role they are struggling to stay motivated in.  Then if and when that fails to address their malaise, they look not to stay in the role, but to change careers, and hence they then seek career development.  Just a wild stab in the dark.

And talking of wild stabs in the dark, the last graph throws up a somewhat unexpected relationship between Career Development and Sex.

“Sex” searches have definitely drooped since the Global Financial Crisis making them more labile than “career development” but they do show a cyclic pattern.  If you look at the trends for searches on “sex” it seems to show almost the opposite of what is happening with searches for “career development”.  Thus “sex” searches peak when “career development” searches wilt.  In other words, when a person is not thinking about career development, their thoughts turn in a very different direction!  I am really not sure what the implications of this are for those of us who proclaim a passion and enduring interest in career development. You might think it, but I could not possibly say….

Job Hopping- are claims it is bad for your career justified?

Human Resource Management Professor Monika Hamori’s recent report published in the Harvard Business Review in July 2010 (http://bit.ly/byC0ZY) casts doubt on the conventional wisdom that moving jobs can accelerate your promotion through the ranks. In particular she argues this casts doubt on the Boundaryless Career idea (see David Winter’s piece on the Careers in Theory Blog).  Indeed Profesor Hamori identifies 4 “myths” associated with advancement. They are a) Job Hoppers prosper; b) A move should always be up c) Big fish swim in big ponds and d) Career and Industry switchers are penalized. On the face of it, such findings appear to cast doubt on the ideas behind the Boundaryless Career. Lets take a look at each of these arguments in their turn, because clearly such provocative conclusions demand closer consideration.

The Research

The first thing to say is that Professor Hamori is not some opinionated commentator hollering from the sidelines. She has an impressive evidence-base upon which she draws her conclusions. Specifically, she considered 14,000 career histories of non CEO executives in four sectors of the financial services industry. These records were stored by a large multi-national search firm. She also looked at the career histories of CEOs of Financial Times top 500 European companies and Standard and Poor’s top 500 US firms. In addition she collected interview data from a relatively small number of executive recruiters (45) and Business School alumni (20).

The Job Hopper Fallacy

Hamori’s case for rejecting the notion that job hoppers prosper faster rests on several lines of evidence.

  • Firstly she reports that her CEOs worked for three employers on average throughout their careers (with 25% having been with the same company throughout their careers).
  • Secondly amongst her 14,000 non CEO executives, she reported that inside moves produced a “considerably” higher percentage and a faster pace of promotions compared to external promotions.
  • Thirdly, Hamori provides a couple of selected quotes from her interviews with recruiters to support her speculation that companies prefer to see “stability” in their executives’ career paths.

A closer look at the numbers

On the face of what is presented in the Harvard Business Review Article, it is difficult to make any precise arguments about the interpretation of the data, because too little is presented to do this (this is simply a reflection of the demands of writing for a non scientific audience and not a shortcoming of the work upon which the article is based). However I did locate an earlier paper by Hamori and Kakarika (2009, Human Resources Management, June) that reports the CEO data in great detail. This helps to clarify some of the findings.

Firstly according to Hamori & Kakarika (2009) “We found that CEOs who have spent a higher percentage of their career with the organization they currently lead (% of career spent with organization…or have spent their entire professional career with the organization… take almost one and a half years less time [my italics] to be appointed to the CEO position of a large organization, other factors being equal (Models 2 and 3). In addition…specifically, for each additional employer the predicted time to the top will increase by more than half a year, other factors being equal….On average, lifetime CEOs reached their current position in 23.1 years, while those who had six or more employers took 26.75 years to get to the top.”

For example, the statement that “CEOs who have spent a higher percentage of their career with the organization they currently lead… take almost one and a half years less time to be appointed to the CEO position of a large organization” does not specify “one and a half years less time compared to who?”. In fact, looking at the units in which % of career is assessed, it turns out that one and a half years is the difference between someone who has spent 0% of their career with the organization compared to someone who has spent all their career with the org, which is a fairly extreme comparison. (As an aside, note how this relationship doesn’t quite make sense conceptually. Effectively, it says that someone who has spent all their career with the organization that they lead will have gotten there more quickly than someone who has spent none of their time with the organization that they lead?!).

Also, when you look at the size of the correlations, they are less than .10 for two of the three IVs, which is the benchmark below which Cohen says things start to get trivial.

An alternative interpretation of the data: Job hopping is good for your career

So if we compare the most rusted on CEOs with the most fickle regular movers in the sample, staying put provides a time advantage of at the very most 13.64% over about quarter of a century. Whilst these figures provide no support on the face of it for those who advocate moving to enhance a career, the benefits of staying put are hardly so large that it is self-evident that staying put is the best strategy. Does getting to the top three years earlier real mean very much over such a period of time? When set against some of the plausible benefits of moving around such as greater diversity of experience, and perhaps a richer more storied personal history, three years seems a small price to pay. Indeed it amounts to little more than accrued sick leave and a few other days off every year.

A more serious concern is whether the conclusion that not moving is better for advancement can be substantiated. This is based on correlational data showing a negative relationship between the number of moves and the time taken to make CEO. It makes the assumption that those who leave had an equal shot at the top job compared to their colleagues who remain. This is a very dubious assumption to make.

Consider this: suppose a town has an Easter egg shortage, such that each of the seven shops have only one egg for sale. There are seven shoppers who turn up at the first store. Only one is going to get the egg. The remaining six walk over to the next store, where five miss out. These five move on to the next store. Eventually we have a pattern that shows the person who did the most walking (the hapless customer who had to go to all seven stores before securing their egg) also took the longest time to get their eggs. Moving stores and time to get eggs shows exactly the same relationship as moving organisations and time to get to CEO in Hamori and Kakarika’s work. However nobody would advise the customers who have missed out to hang around in the first store because they might never get an egg.

There are far more executives in any one company than there are CEO positions, and if the company has good succession planning in place, then there will be more executives suitable and capable of being CEO than there are CEO roles (one). So even putting aside the very important fact that not all executives are equally capable or suitable of being CEO, the data does not provide any evidence to support the author’s conclusions that staying within the organisation is a good move for anyone other than the person who ultimately makes it to CEO. Now you could argue in the Easter Egg example, that those shoppers who missed out in the first store and move on actually have to join other shoppers already milling around in the next store waiting for the egg to be tossed into the crowd. However, this is still a better option than staying in the first store that has run out of eggs. Indeed the person who moves will secure an egg faster than had they not moved.

The problem lies in the notion of all other things being equal. If the selection process of CEOs was essentially random and also regular within each company, then all other things are cancelled out (are equal), and so you may as well stay and take your chances. However this is a huge and unjustifiable assumption to make in any top 500 organisation that all have very explicit and structured processes for identifying and developing talent. It illustrates a type of “ecological fallacy”, where a relationship observed at the between-person level (i.e., “people who move jobs more often take longer to become CEO than people who move less often”) is used to make an inference at the within-person level (i.e., “for a given person, moving jobs will increase the time to become CEO”). As the two levels (between-person and within-person) are statistically and conceptually independent of each other, findings from one level do not necessarily generalise to the other level.

Consequently, it is entirely possible for the negative relationship to exist at the between-person level while at the same time for job hopping to be beneficial for some (or even all) people. The important point is that the job hopper fallacy is a within-person (or individual level) phenomenon that isn’t necessarily going to be adequately tested using a between-person analysis. At the individual level, which is where the Career Counsellors work (the ones that are explicitly singled out for perpetuating “myths” about advancement and movement), advising an executive who has been overlooked for a key promotion that precedent indicates is the pathway to the CEO position to remain with the company rather than looking elsewhere makes little sense. The research as presented is not powerful enough to pick up such career reversals or plateaus.

So if the executive has been identified as the “most likely to”, then advising them to stay with the organisation makes sense. Indeed the advice may well be superfluous because that executive is far more likely to enjoy a range of benefits, bonuses, perks, recognition, feedback and training that all serve to enhance engagement. The moving to enhance your career may be a myth for that very select group. But for everyone else, given that everything else is not equal, their chances within their current company are not equal to everyone else’s, moving may be the quickest route to a CEO role, even if it takes longer than those who remain because they’ve already been identified as going places.

Staying with the company does not cause a person to become a CEO quicker, it is merely associated with that promotion for those who made it. Clearly if one included all the executives who didn’t move irrespective of whether they made it to CEO or not, the correlation between not moving and time to make CEO would show a very strong positive relationship between time served and time waiting to become CEO. One final point is that the fact that CEOs worked for three employers on average throughout their careers doesn’t really tell us anything about the usefulness of job hopping unless we also know how many employers the people who didn’t make it to CEO worked for. For all we know, the latter group may have only worked for one or two employers, which would support the job hopping idea.

A limited view of promotion and career advancement

In Hamori’s work, promotion (other than attaining the CEO role) is defined as “a better title with more responsibility or propelled the executive to a larger firm”. This is a very narrow definition. It does not, for instance take into account remuneration or other benefits and conditions. It equates the size of a firm with managerial complexity which may be an over-simplification. Managing a large group of people in a well established and otherwise well run and successful organisation may be a lot simpler than managing a small dysfunctional team in a complex, competitive and rapidly changing environment. It also doesn’t take into account a whole swathe of work rewards such as autonomy, altruism, quality of co-workers, surroundings, skill development, freedom, work-life balance, and lifestyle factors to name just a few.

It doesn’t take into account job satisfaction either. People often move jobs because they are frustrated. The ambitious do so because they often perceive their ambitions are being frustrated. It is questionable whether advising such people to remain with their employer is going to result in positive career outcomes in all or perhaps even most cases.

The focus and privileging Fortune Admired and top 100/ 500 companies may well reflect the client-base of the Executive search firm that provided a lot of interviews and career histories for analysis. This may promote the notion that only moves to the higher echelons of these lists can be deemed promotions. If broader conceptions of advancement that go beyond the narrow confines of market indexes are considered, what would be the impact upon the data? A move should be up – is this really a myth? This brings me to the “second myth” – which is that “A move should be up”. This myth came as a surprise to me, because I am not sure how many credible authorities are pushing such a message. Indeed I would argue anecdotally that most credible careers professionals promote privately and publicly the view that “side-ways” moves often provide opportunities, and indeed “moves-down” can provide, as Norm Amundson would say the “backswing” momentum to propel one forward. So this myth seems to be of the straw-man variety.

Performance is overlooked

The study has nothing to say about how the individual CEO’s actually perform. Granted this is a complex and contentious area, however it is important to have a sense of relative performance, because there is a possibility that those who move perform better than those who stay. There is no evidence in their data for this proposition, but supposing it were true, where does that leave the conclusion that moving for advancement is a “myth”? There are several possible confounds that could account for Hamori & Kakarika’s (2009) findings not least of which are ability and personality (e.g., highly able, conscientious and emotionally stable individuals are more likely to stay at a firm and also more likely to become CEO). Another big confound relates to people in the sample who started their own corporations early on (see H&K, 2009, p.361 under Dependent Variable).

For example, a person who starts his own corporation out of grad school would score 0 for time taken to become CEO (i.e., the minimum score) and would score 100% for % of career with organisation (i.e., the maximum score). Obviously this greatly inflates the observed negative relationship!

Big fish and big ponds

Here Hamori uses lists like the Fortune’s most Admired lists to judge whether executives are moving from bigger name to smaller name companies. It would be intriguing to get a close look at this data, because such lists have very significant volatility and turnover. The so called “stumble rate” of companies knocked off their most admired perches from one year the next is quite high (49%), and even in the highest echelons of the top 50 all stars, only 17 companies remain on the list that appeared on the initial one in 2001. Consequently with all this volatility, trying to say anything definitive about moves from big names to smaller names seems fraught with difficulty. Afterall Apple’s market value was $7.09 billion in 2001 (when the Fortune list began), and Microsoft’s was $332.73 billion. So leaving Microsoft for Apple presumably was seen as a bad move. In 2010 the Apple’s capitalization was $225.98 billion to Microsoft’s $225.32. Things change and rapidly.

Anecdotal Data

The arguments are supported with appeals to interviews with executive search recruiters, who reinforce the view that too many moves are a bad thing. They claim they and their clients prefer to see only a few moves perhaps interspersed with periods of stability (e.g. An “eight-year run”).

CONCLUSIONS –

There is nothing here to support the claim that moving advances your career is a myth. Hamori’s work is interesting, well presented and thoroughly analysed. It makes a provocative contribution to our understanding of career advancement. However her criticism of the idea that movement can lead to success as being a “myth” is premature, and is not supported by the data she presents. There are too many other variables that plausibly might be at play here that are simply not considered within the narrow definitions of career success or within the dataset.

The size of the effects she reports in practical terms seem underwhelming over the period of time it takes to become a CEO. Another way of looking at this data would be to say, if your path to the CEO route looks to be blocked in one company then moving a couple of times may only delay you by about 12 – 18 months in the worst case scenario that you would have made it to CEO had you stayed put. If, however, you wouldn’t have made it had you stayed put, then moving has probably got you to the CEO role faster than staying put. Given there can only be one CEO (in nearly all companies), then my alternative scenario is more likely to apply. In other words this data can just as easily be interpreted to draw precisely the opposite conclusion.

There are valid criticisms that can be levelled at the Boundaryless career idea, for instance Rodrigues and Guest (2010) review evidence suggesting that moving jobs is not on the increase to the degree that some commentators claim but has always been part of the scene. They conclude that “what we seem to be witnessing is not the demise but rather a redefinition, a growing complexity, and a more subjective perspective on career boundaries (Heracleous, 2004).” pp 1170. I’d agree.

References

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hamori, M & Kakarika, M. (2009) EXTERNAL LABOR MARKET STRATEGY AND CAREER SUCCESS: CEO CAREERS IN EUROPE AND THE UNITED STATES Human Resource Management, May–June 2009, Vol. 48, No. 3, Pp. 355– 378

Heracleous, L. (2004). Boundaries in the study of organaization. Human Relations 57(1): 95-103.

Rodgrigues, R.A. & Gust, D. (2010). Have Careers become boundaryless. Human Relations, 63, 1157. DOI: 10.1177/018726709354344

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank my colleague Dr Amirali Minbashian for his feedback and comments that have helped to shape my thoughts for this piece. I’d also like to thank David Winter from the Careers in Theory Blog http://bit.ly/aPBGq9 for agreeing to us posting our thoughts simultaneously on The Factory Blog and the Careers in Theory Blog.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

I’ll start with an apology, I’m not here I am there. I will be just arriving in Canada for my keynote at the BCCDA conference in Vancouver and other workshops. Probably tweet from there… any some views on apologies in your career from someone whose has an apology of a career!!!

Sorry it seems is not always the hardest word, especially when it is strategic for your career. The apology is the latest weapon in the hands of the upwardly mobile who prefer the older definition of apology as a defence or self-justification rather than the more recent meaning of apology as a sincere expression of regret for hurt caused to another.

You do not have to go back further than the recent state election to see the effectiveness of the apologetic “more to do but we are heading in the right direction”. This is a classic example of the non-apology apology and is typical of the type of mealy-mouthed utterances delivered by those with an eye on the main chance and little regard for awkward truths or uncomfortable insights let alone the unpleasant consequences.

There are a range of strategic or cynical apologies open to the unapologetic. Firstly there is the defensive apology. This takes the form of: “ I am sorry but I didn’t realise that you were so sensitive about your looks”. The normal structure is to spit out the “sorry” on a rising tide of volume, followed quickly by a sniping criticism that serves as self-justification. In other words, it is your fault you are upset.

The distracting apology is an all together more devious and powerful device in the right hands. For instance the car dealer who gets in first with “I am really sorry that I lied through my teeth about the delivery date, it is out of our hands, however if you like we could get you one from inter-state, but you would be up for a delivery fee. We do have one you can have straight away but you will have to cop an extra grand because it has the optional rust-proofing on the vanity mirror”. So befuddled are you, you end up paying the extra. In other words, you can wait, but the wait will be your fault.

The aggressive apology is usually a list of apologies: I am sorry that the report you dumped on me last night is late and I am sorry that I couldn’t get the ancient printer to work that you wont replace and I am sorry that I was late getting here this morning because I had to go across town to collect the parcel you left behind and I am sorry that I exist. In other words it is your fault.

A perfect apology to antagonize another is the too late apology: I am sorry that I did not invite you to dinner with Robert De Niro, but you said you weren’t coming into the office on Wednesday and by the time De Niro suggested it, I reckoned you had probably already eaten. In other words it is your fault.

The neutraliser is a great way of controlling a situation: I am sorry. Look I’ve said I’m sorry, so lets move on. Implication: it is your fault that you continue to have a problem with my behaviour.

Then there is the let me tell you why you are wrong apology: I am sorry that we have given you food poisoning, but you should never have ordered the burger to be cooked that way.

Occasionally the apologiser pins the cause on someone other than yourself, but of course it is never pinned on them. For instance, I am sorry, you should never trust what they say in the sales department what they are suggesting is illegal. They are always doing that. You will need to go back to them and start all over again. Sorry it is not my department. Implication: a) you are an idiot, and b) you are surrounded by idiots.

What is often so lacking is the immediate, heartfelt mea culpa. For this to be genuine and genuinely effective, it requires the following elements: a no excuses and no hiding places expression of remorse; a genuine seeking of forgiveness for past transgressions; the promise that this will never happen again; the unprompted plan of action to ensure it wont happen again; the spontaneous offer of some form of thoughtful recompense; and finally a spontaneous self-imposed genuine punishment appropriate to the misdemeanour..

Funnily enough the last approach is likely to be the most effective in career development terms in the longer term because it builds trust and faith. There are plenty of examples of celebrities that taken this course of action without there being any long term damage to their careers (think Hugh Grant and Divine Brown for instance or Bill Clinton). The trouble is for political parties, the cynic in me wonders whether such a course of action would be political suicide.

Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU National and a Partner at Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy.

Timing your run

Every idea has it’s time. To recruiters you are an idea until signed on. Your promotion remains nothing but an idea until you get it. So in a sense your next career move is an idea until expressed and all ideas have their time.

Early in my career I was talked out of accepting high office in a professional association because my mentor deemed me to be ‘getting ahead of myself’. The idea of me in this role was too much of a stretch for my mentor ( who made the right call as it turned out).

The world of innovation is littered with the road kill of those on the bleeding edge. Many see the wisdom in timing their I.T. Upgrades when all the bugs of the first release software have been patched, or even skipping a whole version of a new operating system like Vista preferring to wait for the stable and proven upgrade.

The risks of course are being left behind, or perhaps worse thinking up a brilliant idea that is out of date because the world has moved on.

I had this experience this morning on my red eye Qantas flight from Sydney to Melbourne (this is being typed on my iPhone in cab to Cbd).

I thought of a comedy sketch where the cast of the old TV show Dallas crewed the plane. I was prompted by noting that one of the staff put me in mind of a character from Dallas – not due to her behaviour which was impreccably professional, simply a name that created a link in my mind. It brought to mind a drunken stewardess – the Sue Ellen Ewing character of Linda Grey- staggering down the aisle spilling drinks on people and helping herself to booze too. JR and Bobby flying plane. Cliff Barne would be thrown off the Flight for making a scene.

Whether there was any humor in there might be debatable but what is clear is that the idea is about 25 years too late. Rats!!

That’s the point, how many careers are influenced by these timing issues? The other point is my experience this morning was a classic example of the ” combining and adding” step of my Beyond Personal Mastery(r) model of creativity. To find out more check out beyond personal mastery(r)

Well the taxi is nearing middle of Melbourne so signing off Jim

Rising without trace in the organization

Fraud in the workplace is far more widespread than most us will publicly admit. I am not talking about employees taking the pens home or wiring a lazy eleventy trillion from the pension fund into their offshore accounts. I am talking about that sense that many of us have from time to time that we are not as good at our jobs as our colleagues appear to believe we are – that we are frauds and sooner or later our manifest limitations will be cruelly exposed. Or is that just me!

In climbing the corporate ladder we implicitly subscribe to a model that states that the cream rises to the top, that success=hard work, emotional intelligence (EQ) and intellectual ability (IQ). We see book after book written on the topic of success in business – sharing the “secrets” and the lessons learned that will take us to dizzying corporate heights. The deal here is quite explicit – if you follow the rules carefully and diligently you too will be a corporate high flyer.

If only organisations were the meritocracies described in the pages of the self-help books and the management texts but I’ve never seen one.  Have you ever wondered why amongst the legions of such books, we don’t have a “Lie your way to the top” (I checked on Amazon, the nearest is a humourous book entitled “Claw your way to the top”).  There is a book called “Sleep your way to the top”, but to my great disappointment this turned out to be a tome on power-napping!  Books on how I sold my colleagues down the river, spread rumours and lies, and manipulated circumstances and the truth to suit my own ends are few and far between (though there are a couple such as the Modern Machievelli by Richard Demack, Allen and Unwin).  So maybe our equation needs to be modified to Success=hard work+EQ+IQ+Political skill.

However, I am not suggesting for one moment dear reader that you are one of the schemers or the sleazy, but maybe you are one of those good people who are diligent, brimming with talent, but have also been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, or for some reason, a senior colleague spotted your potential early and supported you.  Alternatively you could be in that other group which is equally talented and motivated, but you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for whatever reason, senior colleagues remain unaware of your true potential.

In other words, I am talking about the Luck Factor.  We rarely talk about luck because presumably we feel it is out of our control and therefore it is not worth worrying about.  The trouble is that luck may play a much bigger role in success than we are comfortable admitting.

Is it possible that for every story of a corporate rags-to-riches self-made person, there are at least 100 others out there who work just as hard, were just as intelligent but did not get the lucky break?   For every professional sports star, there are perhaps another 100 who may have been even more talented, but circumstances such as opportunity, being spotted, having a good mentor, injury or illness prevented them from ultimate success. There are people out there who have diligently followed all the self-help, but still have not made it.  If you look at the research on chance events in career development which consistently shows that between 60%  – 100% of people point to chance events influencing their careers either positively or negatively, it seems the Luck Factor is an important part of the equation.

So if you buy the idea that corporate success requires not only talent and diligence, but also a degree of luck, you can begin to appreciate why so many people feel they are somehow frauds in their elevated and responsible positions.  They are bombarded with messages that effort=reward, but they know that the reason they got the job was because they were in the right place at the right time, or by chance were the last person standing, or a series of chance encounters opened up a pathway that would never normally be available to them.   Consequently they feel somewhat illegitimate in their roles, and this can lead to a type of defensiveness, such as an unwillingness to go for formal promotions or job interviews, or a reluctance to share their resume with others, for fear that somehow, others will discover their secret that they have “risen without trace”.

Is being pro-active good for career success?

Just reading a great study summarising the relationship between a pro-active personality and career success (meta-analyzing 313 correlations from 107 studies). It suggests that a proactive personality is associated with career success. Proactive personalities seem linked to job performance and behaviors like taking charge. The authors make the point that proactive personalities are more closely associated with supervisor ratings of overall job performance than that reported for any of the Big Five personality factors (Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism) or combinations of Big Five factors. Proactive personality was positively related to a variety of employability-related variables (e.g., learning goal orientation, career self-efficacy), four Big Five trait factors (extraversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and neuroticism), but is unrelated to social desirability.

A great study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, but you don’t need me to tell you that, because with your proactive personality, you’ve already clicked the link, and bought/downloaded the original article!!