Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Your Target-Rich Environment

Let’s start with your target-rich environment. It’s where you should be looking for a job, given everything—your skills, experience, character, working style, and personality—you have to offer. All our lives, people say give me your CV, tell me where you worked before—because it’s all about “the job.”

But the concept that one’s skills are only applicable to a particular type of job, in a single industry or sector, is ridiculous. Once you’ve written your infomercial, you can find great opportunities in a lot of different places. A computer programmer who likes to sell doesn’t have to resign himself to days at the office looking at a screen. His target-rich environment could include sales, consumer testing, even teaching at a college.

You need to do your homework to figure out your target-rich environment. This takes some research online and talking with others to make sure. Keep asking yourself, “Am I looking in the right places?” Look again at the list you made of who you work best with. Where do people like that work? Is it in a quiet office or a rambunctious, wide- open space—or in a country house? What would work for you? That’s your target-rich environment.

It took my good friend Rick almost thirty years to realize that his target-rich environment was bigger than he thought. During high school, Rick played drums with a bunch of guys who ended up becoming the well-known rock band The Tragically Hip. Rick put his drums aside, pursued mining engineering, completed a master’s degree, and then worked in international mining companies. Even though he had landed in an industry that appeared to be the right fit for his qualifications, it didn’t feel right. “All those years, it was always about the job,” Rick told me. “It was never about who I am or about finding a place where I’d really fit in.”

Rick left mining and came to me. He was being recruited by Canadian banks, and he didn’t want to make the same mistake as before. Rick was finally ready to figure out where to find a true fit. It wasn’t easy; in fact, you’ll remember that he was the one who told me that the idea of finding the right fit initially scared him. “My God, I thought as I started to answer the four questions,” he recalled. “I should have continued to play drums in a rock and roll band.… It honestly freaked me out a bit.”

After his infomercial was complete, Rick knew that he needed to find a fit where he could more fully use his strengths in dealing with people and developing relationships. He made the choice to accept a job in investment banking. “I used to think I was a miner who happens to do investment banking; now I know I’m an investment banker who likes mining but is much happier at the relationship side of things. I love dealing with the clients and help- ing them out,” said Rick. “I’m telling you, I have never been happier in my life or more at peace with myself.”

Rick’s narrow view of who he was restricted his choices of where to look for job opportunities. It meant that he had ended up working as an engineer in the mining industry because that was his “title.” He admitted that he kept learning in his job to add value so he could get the next mining job. After Rick developed his infomercial, he finally understood his target-rich environment—which for him extended beyond mining. And now, working with people who understand him, Rick is happy and finally feels, after thirty years, that he fits in.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Case Study: A Personal Infomercial to Land the Right Job

One of my clients resisted for so long that I told her I would stop coaching her if she didn’t use her infomercial. Her name was Jane. We first met at a hedge funds conference, where I was part of the speakers panel. When I first explained how she needed to present herself with an infomercial, she told me I was crazy. But she was unemployed, so what started as a ten-minute conversation over coffee that day turned into several meetings where we worked together to develop her infomercial.

Jane was a pretty confident woman, with almost a decade of experience working on the trading floor and excellent skills in developing client relationships. But she’d always found herself in roles where she felt she was forced to adjust who she was in order to fit in. So we started with her perfect day. Almost immediately, she found that it helped her get rid of the clutter in her head.

Jane’s perfect day:
  • Being part of a team but remaining independent enough to focus on growing my own “little business” … my client book 
  • Spending time reading the news, organizing my day, figuring out client messaging 
  • Spending time with clients, lunches/ coffees 
  • Pitching business 
  • Closing a deal

Defining her perfect day helped her to finally focus on what mattered to her, what she wanted to do, and how best to present herself. Then she worked through the rest of the questions, listing what she did best and those she worked best with and defining her conflict-resolution style. Once she had completed all the steps, she felt ready to pitch herself in a very concise manner the next time there was an opportunity.

It wasn’t long before she had an opportunity to interview for a job as the new managing director at a financial institution. She called me up. Although Jane wasn’t sure the position was right for her, she decided that in a tough job market she should at least go through the process.

Jane would typically go into the room, let those around the hiring table spew, then ask a few ques- tions and walk away. She said that she would usu- ally gauge what those doing the hiring wanted her to say, and then give them what they wanted even if it didn’t sound like her. “After all,” she said, “it’s a job.” I told her to forget that crap. “You’ll just end up unemployed in a couple of years and have to start all over again.”

I explained a different approach. I asked her to think about the fact that she was there to interview the employer as well be interviewed by them. Instead of showing up for the meeting and waiting for the others in the room to say something, I told her, take charge of the meeting. First, thank those in the room and note that they already have your CV. But then say, “I thought before we begin it would be helpful if I gave you an idea of who I am and what you should pay me for.” I advised to have her infomercial ready but to not hand it out until she had finished presenting.

Jane agreed, even though she still felt a bit uncomfortable about presenting herself in this way. On the morning of the interview, she went into a public bathroom to practise a few times in front of the mirror. She figured if anyone walked in, they’d think she was a crazy person, but she didn’t care. She went through her notes several times.

The interview began and Jane took control. She suggested to the three people around the table that she first tell them a bit about herself, what she was looking for, and that then both parties could consider if it would be a good fit. After presenting her infomercial, Jane paused. She could tell by the looks on their faces that she was not what they needed or wanted.

“That’s when I knew that there was no chance that they were going to hire me,” she said. Within a couple of days she received an email that read “You’re not the person we’re looking for.” The outcome suited Jane. When I asked, “Did you get the job?” Jane replied, “No! And I’m so happy. I never felt so empowered in my life!” Not long afterwards, she learned from friends that the company was looking for someone they could mould. “That job was definitely not a fit for me,” she said, laughing.

A few months later, Jane applied for another job. “Again, my infomercial gave me a chance to present my true character,” she said. “It gave me that foundational confidence to stick with my story.” This time the experience was completely different. Both sides felt like it was a good fit, and what started out as an interview turned into more of a discussion. But it was during the final phase when Jane knew for sure it was going to work. One of the senior people on the hiring team sat down with her for a final conversation. “If you don’t mind me saying so, it seems to me that you’re a no-bullshit ind of girl, who’s tenacious and hungry for business.” “I felt so validated,” said Jane. “That was exactly how I had presented myself in my infomercial.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What Should Someone Pay Me For?

John had a long and successful career as a financial planner and then as a politician. He was a cabinet minister until 2011, when he lost his seat in a tight election. After being rejected by the voters, he had to figure out what to do.

John realized that the first hurdle was to come to terms with the loss. “No one wants to date someone who isn’t over his or her ‘ex,’” he joked. “I had to first ‘get over the girl.’” He also took some time off to figure out what he wanted to do next. “I knew what I had to do to be successful in business,” he said. “I knew what I had to do to be successful in politics. Now all of a sudden, I was on my own.”

Job offers came in, but none of them felt right. “People would come to me and say I’m a fit for their agenda,” he said. But it was their agenda, not his. “I remember telling my wife, I can do this as long as I turn myself into a pretzel that someone else wanted. But I’m not going to be successful and happy unless I’m doing something I enjoy doing.” Like most of my clients, John had to answer the universal question of life: “What should someone pay me for today?” What was his real value proposition to an employer or client? It would not be easy to answer that question, especially for a former politician.

The best way I know to figure out your true value proposition is to create what I call an infomercial. You might have seen them on The Shopping Channel—the infomercials hawking the wonder wallet, the fake jewellery, and the magic mop. Infomercials are corny and tacky, to be sure, but the great thing about the modern infomercial is that it explains the direct relationship between my dollar and what I get when I buy the item. It says exactly what is for sale. You either need it or you don’t. If you need it, you’ll likely buy it. If you don’t need it, you’ll pass.

The universal question of life: “What should someone pay me for today?”

Monday, January 30, 2017

Be Real About You, Get Rid of the Buzzwords!

An elevator pitch is just a rehash of a CV. Like a resumé, it is information-based, but it does not give anyone any reason to want you. And like a CV, it contains the usual buzzwords. You know the ones I mean. I am a:

  • good communicator
  • team player
  • professional
  • people person
  • problem solver
  • hard worker
  • highly qualified candidate
  • self-starter
  • collaborator
  • seeker of excellence
  • driven and passionate employee
  • responsible person

What a load of B.S. Get rid of all of them. These buzzwords tell me nothing—in fact, some of them might cause me to pause. Maybe I’m not hiring for a team player, or your definition of team means a team you control. And don’t tell me you’re a problem solver. I didn’t know I had a problem until you brought it up.


Here’s the clincher, though. At the end of the day, am I going to pay you for any of these things? Most of that stuff covered by the buzzwords is not at the core of who you are; you’ve learned to say those things because you think that’s what people want to hear.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Interviewing Strategically for A TrueFit…Are You In-Step with your new colleagues?

Sometimes the problem is personality type. An organization might be a right match from a skills perspective, but the new employee’s style of working might not be compatible with those around them. At first everyone is willing to “try to make it work,” but over time the mismatch becomes noticeable.

A brilliant young woman got a job working for a consulting company. She was very good at what she did and certainly had the skills required for the position, but she kept getting the same comments on her performance review. “We like your work, but you’re a little too standoffish,” said one reviewer. “You’re a bit reserved,” said another, who then added, “You don’t even socialize well.”

The fact is, the woman is a bit of a nerd (and proud of it). Her friends are nerdy—they always have been. These are the people she likes to be around. Those she works with, however, aren’t like her. They enjoy more socializing both inside and outside the office. “When all my colleagues at my company go out to party, it’s not who I am,” she told me sadly. “So I’m working to change how I am.” I told her, “No. What you should be working at is changing jobs!”


Individuals like this woman accept jobs even though right from the beginning, they get the feeling they are out of step with everybody else.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Answering “What I Need” is Critical to Career Success



A friend of mine is a brilliant derivatives player. He had a very successful career at a bank where they gave him total freedom to do what he wanted, hire who he wanted, and fully exercise all his ideas and plans. Then, after a change in management, he and his team were out. So he started interviewing with everybody. He was looking for a company that would give him the same freedom that had made him so successful at his previous job. Sure enough, he landed a seven-figure-a-year job. I called him the first day of his new job: “Congratulations, but you’ve made a big mistake. I bet you $1,000 you won’t be there at the end of year one.” He swore and hung up on me. I was sure I had made the right call. I knew the executives, I knew the organization he had just joined, and I knew he would never be given the bandwidth he needed to use all his skills. I knew because I had been in the exact same situation. 

When we met a few months later, he admitted that my comments were prophetic. “I’m trying to make these changes and they’re not letting me,” he said. “When I presented a plan for business growth, I didn’t even get a yes or no; it just went from committee meeting to committee meeting, and eventually just sat there.”

Soon after he arrived, one of the senior guys in the company asked if he had everything he needed. “What I need,” my friend responded, “is six thousand square feet. Let me hire about two hundred people and give me $1 billion in capital. Then leave me alone.” “Very funny,” the senior executive said. “That’s never going to happen.” But that is exactly what was needed for my friend to be able to maximize his skill set. Both parties had made a huge mistake: the company for hiring him and not understanding how to utilize him, and my friend for thinking that they understood what it meant to hire him. It was a wrong fit, and unfortunately, it happens all the time. 

According to a 2016 study from the Hay Group, the world’s top recruitment firm, half of Canadians are unhappy at work because they’re stuck in a wrong fit. Wrong fit is expensive for employers. On average, the cost of termination for any employee in any organization can range from three to five times their annual salary. But the non-monetary cost is even higher, both for employees and employers. Wrong fit sucks the energy out of the company, the employee, and everyone around that employee. Working together becomes a grind because of the constant waste of energy from trying to make something work when there’s no possibility of that happening. Individuals put forth the effort to try to change themselves, but it just doesn’t succeed—and the result is disengagement. 

People show up every day, attend their meetings, prepare their reports, complete their sales calls, but they are simply going through the motions. A recent Gallup study concluded that only 30 percent of North American employees feel engaged or inspired at their jobs and the vast majority of North American workers —70 percent—are not reaching their full potential.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Making it Work is the Wrong Approach. Here’s a better way.

It starts from the time we are born. Most of us get the message that we can’t have everything we want in life; we have to work at the things we’re not good at. We must be balanced, not tip one way or the other, and we have to get along with every- body. Parents, teachers, and guidance counsellors alike advise us to compromise, comply, bend, and, above all, “make it work.”

Does that make sense? When I asked myself why the talent I had recruited in the past had been so successful, I came to a startling conclusion. It wasn’t because they tried hard at things they weren’t good at. It wasn’t because they were necessarily balanced and got along with everybody. The key was that they did what they were really good at. And their personality fit the culture of the workplace. They were, in other words, a true fit.

Now, after a lot of stops and starts, I am the definition of a true fit. I know what I’m really good at doing. I’m really good at being a trusted adviser to my clients. I execute that role in three ways: I help them recruit, I help them figure out why businesses don’t work (which usually means they have the wrong people in the business), and I coach them and their teams to be more effective. I know I’m a true fit in my business in that I am utilizing 100 percent of the skills that I am good at, and I’m mostly not required to use any of the things that I’m not good at. At the core of my day, what I do makes for a pretty happy life. It’s not perfect, though. There are always ups and downs. I wish I made more money and had more work.


People who hire me need my skills as a trusted adviser to help them recruit for a new position or to find a job that suits their abilities. But they also have to want me and the way I work. I’m like a good old-fashioned matchmaker. I work best with people who trust me to find the right fit for them. A client who’s a true fit, then, needs the service I can give them and wants the way I work. They need me and they want me.