Coming in second isn’t always a bad thing… unless it’s for a job. Then second might as well be dead last.
Posted by Molly Wendell // in Job Search
Our Atlanta facilitator, Mike Wien just came in second in his age group for the Ironman World Championships. In Kona. Yes, the big one! What a huge accomplishment! He feels great about second place. And he should! After more than an hour in the water and six hours on a bike, Mike was in 8th place. But with his last and strongest leg ahead of him (no pun intended), he knew he had an opportunity to land a spot on the podium. He clocked the fastest marathon for his age group, and passed up six competitors to take second place in a pack of world-class athletes.
Second place doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well it doesn’t… unless of course, you’re looking for a job. Then second place might as well be dead last.
Siobhan called me last week. She was prepping for an interview to run Human Resources for a really interesting company in the transportation sector. But she was worried. She’s been the finalist for five different positions. And coming in second isn’t exactly paying the mortgage. So, she decided to call a Lifeline.
Siobhan and I talked about her situation. The good news for her is that she’s getting interviews. The bad news is that they’re not turning into offers. She has an impressive background and looks great on paper. That’s half the battle. The other half is figuring out how to get the company to realize she’s the one. We talked about how she was going to approach the interview with the president of the company. I asked her how she was going to start the conversation and what questions she was going to ask.
And to me it was clear as day. I could tell exactly why she was coming in second. I know why she’s not getting the offers. It’s pretty easy. She’s asking all the wrong questions. She’s more focused on selling herself and asking tactical/me-too kinds of questions. She’s thinking too much about the role and forgetting who her audience is in the interview. Presidents of companies aren’t concerned with the tactical aspects of HR. Presidents don’t care about the intricacies of employee engagement. Presidents don’t care about the specific training programs put in place for their people. Presidents don’t care about the details around the benefit programs. Well, actually, they care about all of these things on a broad scale, but they don’t want to deal with it… and that’s why they hire someone to run HR.
If you’re going to spend some time talking to the president or organizational leader of a company, you need to stop thinking about what you care about, and start thinking about what they care about. You need to start thinking about competition and profit margin and new products and services and cash flow and where the next set of customers are coming from. You need to start from a bigger picture and ask questions around how the company is going to thrive, sustain or turn around. Because if you look like you’re someone who cares about the business drivers and the success of the overall organization (which you probably do), then you’re much more valuable to the company.
The other thing we talked about was making people comfortable. I told her that it was highly likely that if someone stumbled over your name every time they had to say it, they probably wouldn’t want to work with you – because getting the name wrong every time is pretty embarrassing. And unless you’re a die-hard fan of the 80’s band Bananarama, you probably don’t know how to pronounce Siobhan (and even if you were a fan, you still might not know how to pronounce it). So, make it easy for people. When you introduce yourself, give the person a little help: “Hi, I’m Siobhan – sounds like Chiffon – only with a V.”
You may think this is a nit. And while it may seem little, just remember, sometimes the margin between 1st and 2nd is not all that big!