I’m a hard worker… (but so is everyone else!) Surefire Techniques to a Successful Job Interview

In my job-seeking consultancy, job seekers overwhelmingly feel the job interview is the most difficult, anxiety-filled and mysterious part of the job seeking process.

“How do I make myself stand out?”  
“How do I talk about myself without bragging?”
“What are employers REALLY looking for during the job interview?”

“I feel powerless at an interview and don’t feel I have control of my answers.”

When you think about it, job interviews are a combination of a test of knowledge, background, expertise and skills, as well as a way for employers to get a feeling for how your personality would fit in the culture of the company.

As a matter of fact, in the final job interview, each of the finalists for the position could theoretically perform the job: their resumes have been checked, their references called and all have proven they have the pre-requisite backgrounds and qualifications for the position; but only one of those finalists will get the job offer!

In my experience, job seekers who get the job offer are able to turn a one-sided interview into… a two-way conversation. And that is a very different type of interaction.  A conversation divides the power of the discussion and the job seeker now has the ability to lead the discussion down the path THEY want it to go.

Using techniques we’ll discuss further, a job seeker who can turn an interview into a conversation will allow themselves to create a level of imagination in the interviewer’s mind about how their skills, background, experiences, accomplishments, knowledge and personality would be the best fit not only for the job but for the culture of the company. 

How do you prepare for a job interview to secure the job offer?  How do you differentiate yourself in the interview?  How do you turn an interview into a conversation and create the imagination in the interviewer’s mind that you’d be a good ‘fit’ within the culture of the company or the department?

Anticipate the most commonly asked interview questions.
First off, anticipate and practice your answers to the most commonly asked questions in a job interview.  Here are several you’ll most likely get in interview:

  • So, can tell me about yourself?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Why are you leaving your current (or why did you leave your last) job?
  • What skills do you bring to this job?
  • If your former boss/supervisor/former colleagues/employees were here today, what would they say about you?
  • Tell me about one of the proudest accomplishments/projects at a previous job.
  • What is a weakness of yours?
  • What is one thing you believe differentiates you from other candidates for this position?

Sit down with a friend and have them ask you these questions and practice responding out loud.  Don’t forget to smile, show passion and enthusiasm, and look people in the eye as you respond.

Decipher the job posting to prepare for specific questions related to the job.
While you are considering your answers to these questions, go back to the original job description and review the qualifications, the job description and any other knowledge you may have ascertained that is germane to the job, the company, the culture or the department. It’s pretty easy to pick out the 4-5 different areas related to the job you’ll be asked about. What are the problems you will be required to solve? What are the goals of the company and the department? What specific skills and experiences do you have that are tied to the job?  What about this job makes you believe you’d be a good fit? These are also areas you’ll be asked about in the interview.

The rule of three.
As you are reviewing this information, start to formulate in your mind the things that connect your background, skills, previous jobs, accomplishments, levels of expertise and knowledge and come up with a short list of things that you want to get across during the interview.

Called “the rule of three,” these are the top three things you want to get across in the interview. You should actually memorize and work to stitch these three things into the answers you give during the interview. For example:

Specific examples of what differentiates you from others.  Sorry, but ‘hard worker’ ‘highly organized’ or ‘able to multi-task’ are not relevant differentiators unless you back it up with specific examples demonstrating your hard work.

Specific examples of my best work that is relevant.  Be prepared to tell stories about previous work accomplishments that connects your skills, experience and expertise to the job you are applying. Make sure these stories demonstrate the challenge, the execution and the results.  If you have quantifiable analytics (we increase sales by 35%; our click-through rates rose by 50%) use them to demonstrate the relation to your work and the result of your success.

Specific examples of how I add value to your organization.  How are you going to hit the ground running?  What knowledge, relationships, skills related to the company’s industry will be valuable to them?  What specific skills do you have that will help them solve the problem this position is tied to?

There are certainly other things you might want to get across depending on the position itself, and it is up to you, the job seeker, to determine what these things are, but by preparing yourself this way, you’ll see that it is much easier to feel in control of your answers throughout the interview.

Bridging.
How do you weave these things into the answers to the interview questions?

An important interview technique is “bridging.”

Bridging is a powerful means for taking charge of and controlling an interview. The goal of an interview is to focus the interviewer on a few key messages that are true, accurate, clear, concise, brief, and memorable. If done well, bridging significantly increases the probability that your key messages will get across.  By using bridging techniques, you can re-focus or re-direct the interview to the points that are most important, relevant and critical to YOU.  Remember, you want to establish your credibility as the subject matter expert and bridging helps you to do this.

Here are some bridging statements you should consider practicing in anticipation of your answers to interview questions. These statements help you to direct your answers to the things that YOU want to get across during an interview:

“Great question. I had a similar experience at my last job and here’s how I managed it…”

“That’s a terrific question. Here’s what my experience has taught me…”

“That is an important issue that is tied to my strengths (expertise, past job)…”

“My last boss appreciated my experience in this area…”

“A tough decision I had to make surrounding this issue was when…”

“I’m recognized as an expert at… here’s why…”

“There were a few different times in my career that gave me this experience…”

“My experience is tied to the challenges of your industry.  Here’s how…”

“Based on your organization’s goals, my experience can be helpful in that…”

 “And that reminds me of a time at my last job…”

“My employees appreciated that I could see the big picture surrounding this challenge…”

Bottom line:  Very few people are natural interview subjects and most job seekers feel powerless in an interview. Interviewing requires anticipating questions, practicing answers and understanding strategies and techniques that allows you to be able to direct the interview to your strengths and establish you as the credible expert.  When approached this way, the interview becomes less overwhelming and more manageable and gives you the power to control your answers and to lead the direction of the interview in your favor.

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For job seekers, modesty is over-rated, but confidence never goes out of style.

I was in the park with my young kids the other day and heard a conversation between a child, his mother and one of his mom’s friends.

“David, how have you been?”

“I’ve been great!  I play baseball now!”

“How’s that going?”

“Terrific!  In my last game, I had three hits and a homerun!  I also pitched and got four strikeouts! My coach named me the player of the game!”

Mom chimes in:

“Now Davey! You shouldn’t brag! Remember, there were other kids on that team that helped win the game too!”

Everyone probably remembers a conversation like this from their own childhood. Ever since we were kids we’ve been reminded that it is impolite to brag, take all the credit or boast about our accomplishments.

In my job seeking consultancy the most difficult question to answer is, “So, can you tell me about yourself?”  Our awkwardness in taking ownership for our career accomplishments is also often reflected in resumes and cover letters. 

So here’s the deal, job seekers:

Your ‘aw-shucks’ modesty is not endearing; it is hurting your chances of getting a job! 

Employers will not correctly guess what your strengths are nor will they safely assume that your skills and accomplishments are a good fit for the job you are applying.

Your ‘aw-shucks’ modesty is not endearing; it is hurting your chances of getting a job!

The only way others will know how your hard work, education and background is tied to your success is when you TELL THEM.  The only way your future employer will know that you have the best skill sets, the most relevant experience and the differentiators that set you apart from your competition is when you make these things crystal clear in every touch point of the job application process.

So, how do you this?

The number one strategy of the successful job seekers I’ve interviewed is a focused, red-hot confidence.  

Confidence is not bragging nor is it boasting.  It’s simply and directly stating and describing your very real accomplishments.  

Start with your resume.  If you are using ‘wimp’ or ‘fluff’ words and phrases like “Coordinated,” “Helped,” “Highly talented,” “Motivated,” or “Hard working,” your resume will most likely not be seriously considered. If you describe yourself using results-oriented words such as “Senior level,” “Expert in….,” “Led,” “Managed,” “Created,” followed by result-oriented accomplishments, a recruiter will put your resume on the top of the pile.

In addition, if you have quantifiable results use these results to emphasize your accomplishments. For example, “increased sales by 30%,” “Improved customer satisfaction by 25%,” “Increased website traffic by 25%,” “Increased revenue by $25 million in one quarter.”

Lastly, if you are having a hard time talking about yourself in an interview or feel awkward taking credit for your success, ask yourself the following question, “What is your proudest career accomplishment?” Was it a project?  Was it something you did to earn a promotion?  Was it an accomplishment that relied on all of your skills, expertise and integrity? What was required of you to be successful? What part of your background — your education, your experience, your intuition — did you call on to be successful?  Did you have to inspire others?  Did you have convince your boss? How did you measure the results of your accomplishment?

When you start thinking about the things in your career that have made you successful, you start to understand and recognize that describing your successes is NOT bragging, it is simply taking ownership of all of the things that make you, YOU!  That is something every employer wants to understand — what makes you tick? What are the things that made you successful in the past that are going to make you successful at our organization?

Bottom line?  Confidence means not being afraid to take ownership for your successful career. It means providing a deliberate and detailed explanation of how your talents and skills, your accomplishments, your promotions, your leadership and your results are tied to the job your are applying and how those things are valuable to your future employer.

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Let’s cut to the chase: What do you want to do?

So often, I get calls from job seekers who have been at the job search for a while.  They are frustrated because after months of sending out resume after resume, they are still not getting any traction.  There are few interviews and they don’t seem any closer to landing a job.

A common misconception in job seeking is that the first thing you should do when looking for a job is to write a resume.   After studying the habits of hundreds of successful job seekers, it is clear that resumes, while important, are not the first strategy in beginning your job search. 

A typical conversation will go something like this:

ME: “So you’ve been at it for a while, but you are frustrated with your job search. What do you want to do?”

Job seeker:  “Well, my background is in marketing, but I’ve got some skills in graphic design and worked on trade show management as well and I’ve been looking at job postings that match these skills.”

ME:  “Yes, your background is interesting, but WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?”

Job seeker:  “Well, maybe that’s my problem, I am applying for a lot of jobs that I think match my skills and experiences.  I’m willing to do anything that is connected to those.”

And so on and so on…

Usually the resume of this type of job seeker is pretty jumbled; a hodge-podge of skills and talents mixed together with some general qualities, but no laser focused definition of a.) what type of position best fits their background and b.) a complete lack of relevance to the company, the industry or the position they are applying for.

I know the question, “What do you want to do?” might seem intimidating or a little scary.  There are a lot of different things that could (and should!) go into answering that question.  But taking the time to really dig deep and consider your answer to that question can be really helpful in clarifying and defining your job search focus.

Usually, the question is more easily answered with an examination of your core values and what that means to you in your career and the jobs and companies you are considering applying to.  What makes  you tick?  What makes you fulfilled in your career?  What are the things that you rank as being most important when you are thinking about a new job?  Is it money?  Is it the workplace culture?  Is it the ability to make a difference or feel as if your job is giving you the opportunity to thrive and grow?

What about the positions you’ve held in your career in the past?  What were the elements of jobs that you really enjoyed? What about the companies you worked for that drove you crazy? What were the things there that you DON’T want to repeat in a new company? Think about it: These are critical things you need to consider before you just start blasting off resumes!  Your values will (and should!) be represented in every communication touch point you have with a potential new employer.

I’ve created a short series of questions that can help get you started. Answering these questions might get you to consider re-writing your resume, which can be a good thing! Remember, your resume is YOUR ADVERTISEMENT to employers and it needs to define what it is that you want to do and how your background is connected to that goal.

If you are feeling insecure about your resume, I highly recommend that you have your resume written by a professional resume writer. It’s an important investment in your job search.  I’ll be writing more about that in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, try answering the following questions:

1.)    What do you want to do?

2.)    What do you value most about work?
         RANK THE FOLLOWING

a.   Money  __
b.   Job duties (what you do) __
c.   Ethical company __
d.   Like the people you work with __
e.   Work/Life balance __
f.    Benefits __
g.   Driving distance to work __
h.   Opportunity to be promoted __
i.    Respect your boss __
j.    Autonomy __
k.   Teamwork __
l.    Others_________
3.)  Think of a company you worked for that you really enjoyed.  What was the culture of the company like and what about it allowed you to thrive?

4.)   In 500 words or less, describe your career to date.

5.)    What technical skills do you possess?  What do you consider yourself to be an expert at?  (“Hard worker” is not a skill – it’s an expectation.)  

6.)    What positive work qualities do you possess?  If your last boss was describing you, what would they say?

7.)    In 500 words or less, describe a few successful accomplishments in your career (projects, promotions, examples of success, etc.) that you are really proud of. (Think of these as case studies: Describe how you succeeded – what type of hard work was involved?  How did you inspire others to follow you?  Was leadership involved?  Did you have to convince your boss/superiors?  What were the challenges?  How did you measure the success?) 

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Looking for a job? Before you apply, read this.

After you’ve scanned the list and found the position(s) you want to apply for, here are some tips on what to do next:

1.)  Before you apply, determine that you’re qualified for the job.   A good rule of thumb is to apply for a job where you match 75% or higher of the key job qualifications.  Measure your strengths based on what the job requires in terms of background, education, job responsibilities and other key criteria.

2.)  Look for the clues.  Each job posting provides you with clues to what the company believes are the key areas they will be ranking candidates to determine if they will be granted an interview.  Usually, there are 4-5 critical phrases in the job posting that will help you to understand what the company is looking for.  Based on these phrases, customize each resume and cover letter to show how your relevant background and skills make you the ideal candidate for the position.  You can never assume that someone will connect the dots – you have to be specific and clear in showing the recruiter who will be reviewing your resume why you are the ideal candidate for the job.

3.)  Research the company.  The more you know about the company — its business, its industry, its competitors, its culture, its leadership, values and mission, the more you can connect your background to prove it is a good fit.  This will be helpful throughout the process, from writing your resume all the way to your final job interview.

4.) Apply quickly.  Don’t wait until the deadline to get your resume in. Recruiters tell us over and over that due to the amount of resumes they receive, often they will stop accepting resumes after they have received ‘enough’; and that means you have to get your resume in quickly to make sure it is seen and considered by the HR recruiter.

5.) Have a friend review the job posting and your resume you are about to send in.  Often a second pair of eyes will catch typos as well as give a constructive review of whether you are representing yourself in the best way possible in relation to the job for which you’re applying.

6.) Follow up.  If you have applied but not heard back after two weeks time, call the company and make sure your resume was received and ask about the hiring process.  Companies are known for not responding, so take action and find out where you stand.

Continued good luck in your job search!

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Confidence. The one nonnegotiable quality of successful job seekers.

It happened again.

I was talking to a job seeker last week and the conversation went something like this:

“So, can you tell me the types of challenges you are having with your job search?”

“Well, I’m not sure if my resume is any good.  Many of the jobs I apply to, I feel over qualified, but sometimes I apply to jobs where I’m under qualified.  I used to feel as if I was confident in interviews, but now, I’m really crappy at them.  Sometimes with the jobs I apply for I think I’m not old enough and other times I think I’m not young enough.  I’ve changed my resume a lot so people can’t tell how old I am when they read it.  I’ve been applying for jobs where I think have the right skill set, but sometimes it’s a stretch.  I’m definitely not getting enough calls back for interviews.”

“OK.  Can you tell me why someone should hire you?  What skills do you have that would add value to a company?”

“I’m hard working.  I can juggle a lot of things at once – I consider myself a multi-tasker.  I’m easy to get along with.”

Now before we go any further, please recognize, I’m not judging this person.  Job seeking is hard.  There are a lot of common job seeking traps that job seekers fall into.

This particular job seeker, a mid-level financial management professional, had fallen into the ‘stinking thinking’ job seeker trap.  The anxiety of the job search had completely disconnected them from all of the talent, accomplishments, skills, expertise and experience that makes them employable.

Their head was filled with negative self talk (or stinking thinking) and they had completely veered away from the sweet spot of self-confidence that could easily persuade an employer of the value they could add to their organization.

Who had told them their resume stunk?  That they were too old (or too young)?  At what point had the decided they were crappy at interviews?  The fact is, no one had told them any of these things.  The common types of rejection an average job seeker gets in a job hunt had taken its toll and had created an imbalance between negative and positive.  In other words, they could describe more reasons as to why they believe they weren’t getting hired than reasons as to why they believe they should be hired.
 

Confidence and belief in who you are and what you have to offer is the first and most valuable element of finding a new job.

Confidence and belief in who you are and what you have to offer is the first and most valuable element of finding a new job.  It is the consistent thread that weaves together your resume, your cover letter and every discussion you have with a potential employer.  It defines you.  Confidence explains how you got to where you are in your career; it is the narrative that describes how your background is connected to your passion for what you do and how your passion has resulted in meaningful accomplishments.  

Job seekers without absolute, red-hot confidence flounder.  They tend to shotgun dozens of resumes to dozens of job postings and cross their fingers that someone will call them back.  They lack focus about how their skills, experience and accomplishments are connected to relevant jobs that match their backgrounds.  They have a difficult time answering even the most soft ball of questions that would allow them to tie their previous work experience to the jobs they are applying.

Confidence is not bragging.  It is not boastful or arrogant. Confidence is being able to clearly demonstrate on your resume and in your cover letters how your background fits the requirements of a job and how specific experiences and accomplishments add value to the position your are applying for.

Want to capture your mojo?  Become the king of confidence?

Here are a few tips.

Write down your skills on a piece of paper.  Be very specific: the skills that were required to do your previous jobs.  For example:  If you were a supervisor, what skills were involved in that?  If you were a marketing manager, what skills helped you to be successful?   

Get used to talking about your skills and start telling stories that describe your skills in action.  If you don’t consider yourself a good storyteller consider this question: What are some of your proudest accomplishments at your previous jobs?  Why were you proud?  What skills were required to be successful?  What did you accomplish?  How did your accomplishments inspire others?  What were the results of your accomplishments?

Recognize false skill phrases.  Resist the temptation to says the words, “I’m a hard worker,” or “I’m easy to get along with,” or “I’m a multi-tasker.”  These are not skills, they are expectations of everyone who is applying for the same job!  If you feel the need to say these things, back them up with specific stories that are tied to the job you are applying.  For example, “I’m a hard worker, let me explain how….”  or, “One of the things my previous boss liked about me was my ability to juggle a lot of different things at the same time, for example….”  You have to describe what these often over-used descriptors mean and how they are tied to the argument you are making about why you are the best candidate.

Take a stab at writing your own ideal job description.  What type of job is it?  What would it look like?  What job requirements would fit you best?  What are the qualifications required that are a match for you?  How would your ideal job description match your own passions, values and skills?

The bottom line is that we all have unique, valuable and employable skills that define who we are.  The most successful strategy to a getting job offer starts with you defining and believing with all of your might, the elements that make you a unique and valuable asset to an employer.
 

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Job search got you overwhelmed? Make it more manageable (and effective!)

For many, there is an overwhelming sense of anxiety that goes with their hunt for the perfect job. 

Sending out endless resumes, not hearing back, or going to an interview and not getting the job, and meanwhile, time marches on.  Bills stack up, there’s pressure from the family and, of course, you are trying to manage your own internal angst.

If you are feeling overwhelmed in your job search, here are a few ideas to help you make the job seeking process more manageable:

1.  Focus on the jobs that you are qualified for.  

Resist the temptation to send out your resume to every job posting that seems like ‘the perfect fit.’ 
 

Successful job seeking routines rely less on the quantity of jobs you apply to but more on the quality of the jobs you apply to.

I was working with a job seeker earlier this year and she was frustrated that she was not getting calls back from the jobs for which she was applying. I looked at the jobs she was applying and told her, “The reason you are not getting interviews is because you are applying for jobs that you are not qualified for.”  She told me, “But I know I could do those jobs if someone would only give me a chance!”

She’d fallen into the trap of applying for positions where she may have matched 20% of the qualifications, but there was no way she could compete against the professionals who had 80% of the qualifications.  

I understand. 

Looking for a job can be a great adventure and you might feel as if you now have the opportunity to do what you really have wanted to do all your life.  However, if you want to find a job quickly, focus on your skills and only apply for the jobs where your skills, background, experience and accomplishments match at least 75–80% of the requirements outlined in the posting.   

If you have the time to go through a ‘reinvention’ process that allows you to attend school to learn new skills, or start at a lower rung to get the experience needed to move up in a different career, then that is a valid and legitimate goal.  However, if you are looking for a job in the very near future, focus on the skills that will match the jobs you are applying.

2.  Develop a job-seeking routine.

One of the most difficult things about losing a job, is that your routine is completely destroyed. 

Think about it.  When you are working, you follow a pretty regimented routine throughout your day. You wake up, have breakfast, take a shower, get dressed, go to work, eat lunch, come home, etc., etc.  There are certainly other routines you are used to, the task and responsibilities of your job, the social life routines of work and, of course, the routine of getting a paycheck. 

But think of it this way: As a job seeker, you have a job.  You are the Chief Marketing Officer for…..YOU!

Saying that, you should develop a routine that you follow regularly.  The routines must be regular tasks and efforts that are effective and that you feel are progressing your job search.

Too many people I know follow a routine of sitting in front of their computers all day randomly sending out resumes to job postings on online job boards.  Shot-gunning resumes and cover letters to dozens of jobs a day is not a productive routine and will quickly lead to frustration.

Online job boards are helpful in identifying opportunities, but the routines related to actually applying for positions are much more involved.

Successful job seeking routines rely less on the quantity of jobs you apply to but more on the quality of the jobs you apply to.

I recommend spending only about 20% of your job seeking routine on job boards identifying new job opportunities. 

Once you have identified the opportunities, spend your time doing research on the company and the principals of the organization.  Make sure that this job and the organization is an appropriate for you.   Look on LinkedIn and determine if you have any connections to the company, and if so, try and connect with them.  When you feel you have a good sense of the organization and the position and feel that your background, skills and experience are a match, then spend begin customizing your resume and cover letter.  Remember your resume and cover letter should do a good job of describing WHY you are a match and why your background and skills would be valuable to the organization and the position you are applying.

3.  Incorporate other job-seeking activities into your routine.

Job seeking can be a very lonely process.

Some job seekers quarantine themselves at their home, sitting in front of their computer for hours on end.  They have very little interaction with other people, they get bored and the stinking thinking (the voices in your head that constantly remind you about your struggles to find a job!) infiltrates their minds.  This is also when the anxiety gremlins can really become a menace to your job search and can quickly lead to job-seeking depression.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Instead, think about getting out from behind your computer and step outside your home!

There are numerous support groups available through a variety of sources.  Every county in Colorado has a Workforce Center that provides resources including resume building, interview coaching, and seminars to help keep you motivated.  Dress for Success is a local nonprofit that assists people in their job search and organizations like the Mi Casa Resource Center also have classes to help individuals in their job search.

Also, another aspect of your job search is networking.  Reaching out to friends, former bosses, colleagues, clients, vendors – anyone you know that can help in your job search.
 
Make cold calls to companies or to people who you have identified as prospects that might help you land a job. Yes, it might seem awkward at first, and if so, write out a script that can help you stay focused and on message.  Remember, you are the chief marketing officer and salesperson for yourself! Try and set up ‘informational interviews’ that give you face time with someone and remember, always make an ‘ask’!  An ask can be anything from, “Do you have a job that fits my qualifications,” to “Can you give me some names of people you think I should be talking to?”  It might also be a question like, “Can you introduce me to your HR person so I can drop my resume off with them,” or “Can you give me some advice about my resume and if you think it is making a strong enough case for me?”

Bottom line – If you are feeling as if you are in a rut and anxiety is overwhelming your job search, try some new tactics.  Focus!  Spend quality time applying for jobs that are defined by a laser-sharp focus that concentrates on the value your skills and experience brings to an employer.  Don’t fall into the false hope of randomly sending out dozens of resumes to job postings on online job boards. Instead, develop a routine is based on activities that engages you in the job seeking world and emphasizes the quality jobs that match your skills and experience.
 

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Professional Associations: Helping Professionals Progress Their Careers

Professional associations are some of the most helpful (but often under used) resources for networking.  There are literally thousands of professional associations representing every different type of industry and profession.

A professional association is a group of professionals within a career field who come together for:

  • Individual professional development and advancement
  • Promoting the field as well as educating the public on issues related to the industry
  • Networking and collaborating
  • Sharing new ideas and practices that set standards for the industry and workplace
  • Representing interests of industry before federal, state and local governments

To explore and discover the professional association that would fit your goals, visit the American Society of Association Executives at www.asaecenter.org or you can visit their searchable directory to find associations in Colorado by clicking here.

Following is an interview with Mark Beese, who was recently inducted into the Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame.  Mark is also a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management.

Mark is President of Leadership for Lawyers, a consultancy dedicated to helping professionals become better leaders and business developers. He is the former Chief Marketing Officer of Holland & Hart, a 450 attorney law firm based in Denver.  Mark also serves as adjunct faculty at the University of Denver Sturm School of Law, where he teaches Strategic Marketing and Business Development. Contact him at mark@leadershipforlawyers.com and www.leadershipforlawyers.com.

How can job seekers benefit from engaging with professional associations during their job search?

Hopefully you haven’t waited to get involved with a professional association before you had to start a search.  Even if you did, find the one or two associations that best fit your career interest, attend meetings and work the room.  Look for highly connected people (ask the Chapter President or Program Committee Chair) and ask them for introductions to people who do what you want to do.  When you find them, ask them for help in the form of an informational interview.  You would be surprised how willing people are to help others.  Take them out for coffee, lunch or drink and pick their brain.  Ask:

-    How did you get into the business?
-    What advice would you have for someone trying to break into the profession/industry?
-    What skills, training, experience or background is critical to land a job in this area?
-    What companies in this area hire people like you?
-    Do you know of any companies hiring in this area?
-    Whom else should I talk to in order to learn more about the profession and job opportunities?

Don’t sell, be pushy, self-centered or ungrateful.  Keep in touch with the contact so that when you land your dream job, you can thank her or him for the role they played in your success.

And if you are the someone lucky enough to be asked out for coffee, lunch or drink:

-    Say yes when asked for help.  You likely benefited from a mentor, coach or kind person years ago and you need to pay if forward.  Pay for said cup of coffee, lunch or beer.  Money can be tight for a job hunter.
-    Be open about your story – your successes and failures – and take the opportunity to encourage the job seeker.
-    Search your network for people who might be able to open doors, give advice or offer assistance to the seeker.  Make an email or personal introduction.
-    Don’t feel like you have to hire or refer the seeker to others for employment.  You don’t have to solve their problem, just help them along their path.
-    Keep in touch so that if an opportunity pops up in the future, you can offer additional help.  Keep an eye out for educational and networking opportunities you can pass on to the seeker.

What advice would you give to professionals contemplating becoming involved with a professional association?

Choose the organization wisely.  Go to a few meetings and work the room.  Find a board member and ask for introductions.  Are these “your” people?  Can you learn from them?  Are there ways that you can contribute?  Did you have fun?

You have to give to the organization in order to benefit from the network.  Look for opportunities to contribute your time, expertise and energy.  The program/education/activities committee is a great place to start.  Look for the best way to meet the most people.  Be vulnerable and open to making new friends.  Go the extra mile to have substantive conversations with people and offer to help others and the organization whenever you can.

Be generous.

Consider a multi-year plan to increase your involvement, run for a board position and consider a regional or national committee or board position. At each level you will enrich your network and leadership opportunities, as well as have an opportunity to help others.

Don’t forget to bring your firm or company along for the ride.  Seek their support in your quest for networking and leadership development.  Bring back great ideas and share them with your company.  Bring members of your company’s leadership team along with you to appropriate programs or conferences and use the time with them to build your relationship and discuss each others vision for your company.

What point in your career did you become involved in professional associations and why?

I joined the Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) as soon as I started at Kideney Architects as their first Marketing Director.  Frankly, I didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing.  The local chapter gave me an opportunity to meet other marketing folks from architecture, engineering and construction companies.  I was fortunate to meet a number of veteran marketers who took me under their wing and let me drill them with questions.  They informally mentored and coached me over the years.

I attended local meetings and the national conferences. The education programming was very helpful to me as a young marketer. I joined the board in the second year of my career.  Our board meetings were frequently held in restaurants.  We would trade secrets over dinner, then conduct business afterwards.  The most valuable thing for me was learning how other people dealt with common issues.  After being on the board for a few years, I felt a need to give back, so I ran for President of the Upstate New York Chapter, which opened doors for networking and learning on a national level.

That was 1990.  I’ve been involved with either SMPS or the Legal Marketing Association ever since.

How have professional associations helped you in your career?

SMPS and LMA have been my main source of mentors and mentoring for 25 years.  I have been very fortunate to develop friendships with some of the kindest and smartest people in legal marketing and law firm management.  These role models have been generous in their advice, direction, encouragement and referrals.

Some time ago, I was at my wits end working for attorneys.  I was ready to either go back to marketing architecture/engineering or finding a new line of work.  I was fortunate to have a few close friends through the LMA with whom I could share my frustrations. They were generous in their support and advice, leading me to find a new CMO job with Holland & Hart in Denver, a job that I enjoyed for nearly nine years.  I am forever grateful for their help in getting through a difficult time.

In late 2008 when I left Holland & Hart to start my consultancy, it was my LMA network that helped me find some of my first clients and speaking gigs.  I would never have gotten Leadership for Lawyers off the ground without their support, confidence and connections.

Associations also give people an opportunity to build professional skills and credibility. I started speaking at association meetings in 2002.  I wasn’t very good at first, but over time I gained confidence and competence in designing substantive sessions and delivering them in an effective and entertaining manner.  Speaking is now an important part of my marketing mix and has helped me develop credibility as a consultant, trainer and coach.  I am now a professional member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), an association for professional speakers that has opened a whole new world of learning and networking.  BTW, Denver has a great chapter that offers world-class training for professional speakers.

Building a strong network is critical to success.  Not only do you know whom to call for help or advice, but you have an opportunity to help others as well.  In the 16 years I have been involved with the Legal Marketing Association, I have met some of the most creative, energetic, strong, resilient and brilliant professionals on the planet.  I look forward to seeing them at regional and national events to trade stories, learn from each other and hopefully helping each other.  The network has evolved to a very active online discussion forum on Facebook and LinkedIn – a place were we help and supports each other.

I have been consulting as a sole practitioner for five years.  Most of my work and inbound referrals come from contacts gained through the Legal Marketing Association and the Association of Legal Administrators.  I frequently speak and write to these audiences in order to keep my brand fresh and to expand my network among possible referral sources and clients throughout the country.

As a member of a professional association, how have you been involved? (volunteering, board of directors, committee, events, speaking, writing, etc.)

Professional associations are a great way to learn leadership, management and communication skills.  One of my earliest roles was doing PR for a professional association.  I had to learn how to write a press release, fax it to media outlets and follow up by phone.  Those activities introduced me to local and industry media contacts, which helped me with PR duties for my firm.

The same goes for management and leadership.  Getting involved with a professional association allows you opportunities for delegation, mentoring, creating vision, developing strategic plans and networking.

When I arrived in Denver as the new Marketing Director of Holland & Hart, one of the first things I did was to track down Lisa Simon, the local president of the Legal Marketing Association Chapter.  I went to a few meetings and then conspired with Chancey Green to be the program co-chair the following year.  It was great way to meet other marketers from other professional service firms and to benchmark my firm’s efforts with our competitors.  I learned a lot from my fellow marketers and developed strong friendships with many of them.

Over the years I served on the Rocky Mountain Chapter Board, including a stint as President.  This served as an entry to serve on the International Board and on several national committees including the Your Honor Award (National Award) Committee, Strategic Planning Committee and others.

After I stepped down from the National Board, I focused on speaking and writing on the topic of leadership to chapters and associations across North and Central America.

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