Archive for November, 2008

Answering Difficult Questions

Difficult Questions…

……sometimes in my life I have come across very difficult questions. As a leader, people expect my answers to be clear, concise and to meet the standard expected of me.
I have hesitated in answering them before, or deferred them to another time.
We have the power to articulate and think deeply before answering or asking a question but when faced with very difficult questions.

How should we handle It.? What is your experience with difficult questions?

Thank you very much.

Mariéme Jamme- MBA

Social Entrepreneur- Speaker- Founder of Iconscience- Emerging Markets Strategist- CEO at Spotone Global Solutions.

People ask questions because they want answers. I find it very disrespectful when someone “doesn’t answer” a question. The more that they talk around it and pretend to answer, the more disrespectful I find it (since you’re essentially assuming that people are stupid and can be fooled onto thinking that you’ve provided an answer)

Answer the question with honesty and integrity. If you don’t know the answer, say that you don’t know, but that you’ll find out. If you need time to think about it, tell them that and indicate when they can expect an answer. If you can’t answer for some reason, explain and indicate when you might be able to answer. If the answer will cast you in a bad light, get it over with and try to indicate how you intend to turn the situation/answer around.

As an individual, your only true asset is your reputation. If you habitually avoid answering difficult questions, mislead people in your answers, or just brush them off, that will have a much greater impact than your answers likely will. If you address the difficult questions proactively and do so with honesty and integrity, that will help to develop trust and will improve your reputation as a leader and as a coworker.

Is “Meets Expectations” good enough?

I’ve known a lot of sales managers who frown upon “meets expectations” performers. What do you think? Is “meets expectations” good enough?

Doyle Slayton

Sales & Leadership Strategist – Professional Speaker | Author | Social Media | Web 2.0 |

It depends on whether or not it’s truly “meets expectations” or if it’s really a point on a curve. A good manager should have set the stretch goals up front and the expectations would be based on that. Therefore, “meets expectations” would be exactly that. You’re a model employee that fully earned your salary and your manager had a good idea of what you were capable of when setting your targets.

However, a lot of organizations use the Jack Welch “forced ranking” mechanisms and label the mid-point of the curve as “Meets expectations”. They also apply it to a microcosm rather than using it to prune the dead limbs out of the company as a whole. It confuses the “rankings relative to peers” with the “ability to meet goals and expectations”. If a sales organization has an exceptional team and the curve is applied to the team, you can have 120% performers suddenly showing up as “did not meet expectations” or just “meets expectations” (the bottom and middle of the curve). Similarily, if everyone was incompetent, you could have people with 50% of target showing up as “far exceeds”.

Along a similar vein, can a sales manager “meet expectations” if they have staff that doesn’t? Isn’t it the expectation that the sales manager corrects performance issues or gets rid of the associate?

It’s important to understand where the “meets expectations” is coming from. Is it “making your numbers” or is it “hitting the median” compared to your peers. Whenever I see these terms, I generally assume them to be BS and dig deeper to find out what the person truly accomplished or failed to accomplish.

Fact vs. fiction in resumes

How do you determine facts vs. fiction in resumes?

With massive lay-offs in almost every industry sector, people are busy finding jobs! Resume writers and career coaches advice applicants to be specific (What was the problem and how you solve it?) and not to give job descriptions or list of positions. One thing they strongly recommend is to “quantify” your achievement.

I like to read patents and resumes. I read resumes posted on-line and find people to do exactly that – “quantify”. We all know that industrial achievements do not come from a single individual but from efforts of many (along the entire value chain). When a sales manager claims to have increased sales by 300% – what S/he exactly means? From $1000to $3000 (easy to do) or from $3 million to $ 9 million (difficult to do). When an egineer or mid level supervisor claims of designing a process/ product/ method which saved company $x millions or cretaed $ x million market, who provides those figures and how do you verify that? We know that changes in industry comes at costs and benefits. I also see, people giving almost a page long achievements for jobs lasting 6 to 9 months, and some are quite astonishing. Either the yard stick for success has shrunk or people have become really good at what they do ! I see people claiming to create market for 100s of millions but were let go!

I also question value of references applicant provides. Everyone will provide references of people they have good raport with. Employers are concerned about legal problems and always ask managers to be careful when they give their name out as reference.

So, my question is – what is the meaning of quantifying achivements for sake of quantifying? How do you screen resumes with such bold claims?

Amit Dharia, Ph.D.

Owner, Transmit Technology Group, LLC, TX

This comes back to a recurring issue that I have with the recruiting industry. It used to be that there was a rapport between a recruiter and a candidate. The recruiter would work as an agent for a group of people and as an agent for a group of companies. They’d come to know the strengths and weaknesses of candidates as well as the cultures and unwritten requirements of the companies. The two of you would work together to determine how best to present your qualifications to the hiring manager. Now it’s just “send me a resume and I’ll forward it”. There are a few of the “old school” recruiters out there. But they’re becoming fewer and farther between.

Recruiting is now such a commodity industry, that it’s created this “tooth-and-nail” approach to resumes. People state accomplishments in the hopes that their “60%” improvement will get them ahead of the people with only a “50%” improvement listed on their resumes. Completing a project 3 months ahead of schedule pushes those meager “completed on schedule” people into the circular file. It’s all about marketing. No product goes to market saying simply “it does exactly what you’re looking for”. Similarly, very few resumes get considered if they simply list skills and experience. They have to have that “Cleans 50% whiter than white!”, “Delivers 20% better than brand X” feel or they end up in the bin.

What makes this worse is that there are so many recruiters that expect you to have a “one-size-fits-all” resume. You have to somehow cram every possible contingency into a single document. For someone like me who has worked in multiple industries, across multiple disciplines and successfully built and run consulting practices (which requires a lot of cross-functional knowledge and skills), my resume ends up reading like a complete work of fiction. Is it too good to be true? No, not really. I consider myself slightly more skilled than the average bear in a wide number of disciplines, but I know that there are a lot of experts who could blow me away in any single area. I also know enough to know what I don’t know and how to surround myself with talented people to fill the gaps.

So, when I have to second-guess what a recruiter may be looking for without knowing anything about the possible job opportunity, company or even industry, the best way to get their attention usually ends up being to bandy around a lot of numbers and accomplishments without a lot of focus on specific skills or expertise. Honestly, I’m more proud of rescuing disasters by the skin of my teeth than I am of pulling off great numbers in a supportive, mature environment. But it’s the big flashy stuff that usually engages the recruiters in conversation. It’s that conversation that allows me to present myself in a more focused manner.

If a resume gets your attention, I’d be more inclined to call the individual on the claims. They should be able to back them up with specifics. How they respond and what skills and knowledge they have to back them up is really what’s important. Selective background checks should be the last step before presenting them to your client. At that point, you can ask specific questions about roles, responsibilities and accomplishments instead of “did they really generate 100M of business?”