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Stop Relying on Your Manager for Performance Reviews

November 17th, 2017

Are you waiting all year long for your annual performance review in order to get feedback on how you’re doing at work? Have you ever given a huge presentation or a high stakes project in June, only to hear in December that you aced it or didn’t quite hit the mark? If you have no idea how successful you are at your job, and you’re waiting for your boss to tell you how well your projects are being received, how widely you’re respected, or how likely you are to climb the ladder, that’s not great. Instead of relying on your manager’s opinion (especially if that means waiting all year for a formal review), change course and find alternative ways to evaluate your performance. Consider these moves.

Read the room.

You’ve worked for weeks on your sales pitch and you’ve lost sleep and stayed late at the office to make sure every detail is perfect. But during the actual presentation, you’ll need to stop thinking about your sweaty palms long enough to look around. Take the focus out of yourself and place it on your audience, and do this in the moment whenever possible. You will never receive a more honest and useful response then the expressions in the room while your performance is underway. But reading real-time responses will require a degree of self-possession and calm that may take some effort to summon.

Ask your direct reports how you’re doing.

Asking your boss for daily reviews of your performance can come off as needy and insecure, and asking your coworkers for constant feedback can come off as a confidence problem. But asking your direct reports won’t entail that type of baggage. You’re there to support the people who work for you, and asking them how you’re doing (and how you can do better) is usually received as a welcome sign of strong and engaged leadership.

Check the numbers.

Numbers don’t usually lie, and if your projects are consistently coming in on time and under budget, that’s a strong sign that you’re doing fine, at least on paper. But if your missed deadlines and overbudget projects are starting to creep above the average for your position, something’s wrong. Even if you had a good reason each time you missed the mark, you still missed it, and there’s probably something you can do to get your numbers up.

Even if you’re doing well, there are ways you can do better.

Remove your sense of harsh self-judgement and take a step back. Even if you’re doing a perfectly adequate—or exceptional—job, there must be at least one area in which you can focus your efforts on growth and improvement. So which area is it? If you have to pick one, which one would it be?

For more on how to conduct your own honest performance reviews instead of relying on feedback from others (especially your boss), turn to the career management team at Merritt Staffing.

Is Your Elevator Pitch Costing You the Opportunity?

October 27th, 2017

Here’s a thought exercise that every job seeker should engage in on a regular basis throughout the search process: If you found yourself riding the elevator (or sharing a cab or subway ride) with a crucial networking contact or potential employer, would you know how to make use of that precious time? If you only had about 30 seconds to spend with someone in a position to move your career forward, would you know exactly what to say?

Those in the career management world refer to this 30-second burst of prepared words as an “elevator pitch”, and if your elevator pitch isn’t polished to perfection and ready at a moment’s notice, you may be missing out on opportunities to get ahead. Here are a few common pitch problems that might be affecting your chances.

Your pitch doesn’t exist.

If you can’t yet sum up your candidacy and your qualifications in less than a minute, start drafting your pitch today. Practice delivering it aloud at a speech pace that’s normal and comfortable for you. You’ll be glad you did. Even if you never find yourself riding a literal elevator, you can use your pitch to keep your interview conversations focused and on-message.

Your pitch is boring.

Keep your message exciting and relatable, and start by giving it a purpose and meaning that extend beyond your own career and your own hopes for yourself. Demonstrate how your credentials and your professional goals will benefit others outside of yourself, specifically the person you may be speaking to. Most listeners are more interested in themselves and their own company prospects than you and your personal past.

Tell a story.

Instead of structuring your pitch around a laundry list of reasons why your listener should hire you, shape your speech into a narrative. Give it a beginning, a middle and an end, and find a way to turn your listener (or their company) into the protagonist. If you’re the protagonist, make sure you come off as someone worth rooting for.

Use numbers.

Quantify your claims, accomplishments, and goals as well as you can. Adding numbers to the details of your story will make your pitch easier to put into perspective and easier to remember later on.

Leave room to land your plane.

Your pitch should not build and build and then abruptly cut off when the elevator doors open. Keep an eye on the time available and begin the process of wrapping up several seconds before the metaphorical buzzer.

For more on how to create a winning pitch that can win over a valuable contact in 60 seconds or less, turn to the New Haven County job search experts at Merritt.

Is it Time to Rebrand Yourself?

September 22nd, 2017

Sometimes even the most popular and profitable brands need a reboot in order to stay fresh and hold their position as market frontrunners. If something isn’t broken, there’s usually no need to fix it, but even reliable classics need an update every few years so their storyline can stay consistant with the changing needs and priorities of their audience.

The same rule applies to job seeking employees. When you’re fresh out of college, bursting with ambition but short on practical experience, it’s okay to sell yourself based on your potential. As you get a little older and more immersed in your industry, it’s wise to reboot your profile so “potential” takes second place after the hard-earned lessons of experience. And as you enter the third phase of your career, it’s time to consider yet another update. If this describes your situation, keep a few job search and re-branding tips in mind.

Focus on Your Biggest Successes

Eagerness, a can-do attitude and a megawatt smile are worth more than gold for entry-level job seekers. And these qualities bring the rewards and honors that signal success. But gold stars for performance at the entry-level don’t shine as brightly for experienced workers, so at a certain point, it’s time to tuck these things away and replace them with more meaningful counterparts. The megawatt smile should give way to the thoughtful frown of someone who knows how to make hard leadership decisions, and cheerful eagerness should be replaced by the ability to say no, to speak honestly, to take a stand, to negotiate, and to embrace the mistakes of the past instead of hiding them.

Raise the Bar

At the entry-level, simply showing up on time can be praiseworthy. And after a few years of experience, easy wins and participation in successful team projects deserve top billing on a resume. But as you enter the second half of your career, make sure the top items featured on your profile reflect the rising expectations that come with age and experience. Don’t try to show off every detail of your career; instead, delete the easy victories and focus on the serious accomplishments that your younger competitors can’t claim.

Don’t Edit Out Your Past Careers

While it’s fine to edit out your early accomplishments and replace them more recent and impressive claims, don’t delete your previous careers. By the time we reach the latter part of our career, most of us have moved through several jobs and sometimes even completely different industries, so if you’re looking for an accounting job and you used to be in retail, share this fact, don’t hide it.

Your experience can work in your favor and can become a powerful selling point for potential employers, but only if you embrace it and show off your new brand strategically. For more information, turn to the career management experts at Merritt Staffing.

Don’t Treat a Phone Interview Casually

August 25th, 2017

If you’re like most job seekers, you prepare well in advance for your face-to-face interviews, dressing to impress, researching the company, and taking extra precautions to put your best foot forward. But you probably don’t take the same approach or invest the same time and thought in a simple phone screening. But you probably should. Give yourself an advantage during the search and take a few extra steps that your competitors are likely to ignore. Here’s how.

Be yourself…but be your BEST self.

Affecting a fake persona during an interview isn’t a good idea, and over the phone this plan is even more likely to backfire. So don’t try to be someone you aren’t. But do bring your friendliest, most engaged, and most organized and purposeful side to the call. Sit up straight, or stand. Speak a bit more slowly and clearly than you’re used to. Smile as you speak— your listener can hear your smile.

Prepare beforehand.

Make sure you’re ready to take the call in a quiet place with no distractions or unpredictable noises in the background. And of course, don’t create these noises yourself. If you think your listener can’t hear you flushing a toilet or eating a snack, think again. The room around you presents a soundscape that your listeners can easily interpret, so don’t reveal what’s around you. When you take the call, do it far away from coffee shops, bathrooms, and dog kennels.

Do some research.

A phone screening doesn’t require the same depth of research that might help during a face-to-face meeting, but do some research all the same. Impress your employers by showing that you’re invested in the job and you’re interested in moving the process forward. A few minutes spent reviewing the company’s website should suffice; don’t miss this easy opportunity to shine.

Ask questions now.

During your initial phone call, you’ll have a chance to ask questions that may feel awkward later in the hiring process. For example, if you suspect that this job will pay far less than you can accept, get this cleared up now. Don’t waste the employer’s time and your own by moving forward toward an offer that you’ll inevitably reject. The same applies to other clear dealbreakers, like a geographic location far outside of your search range.

Prepare your tools.

Check to make sure your phone connection is clear and you have access to whatever conference platforms your employer plans to use during the call. If you plan to take notes, make sure you have your note-taking program or pad and pen handy. While you’re at it, prepare a list of questions you’d like to ask and key points you’d like to make about your background and credentials. Be ready to share these details without being directly asked. If you wait for the perfect prompt, you may miss your moment.

For more on how to make the most of your phone interview and move forward to the offer you’re looking for, turn to the Fairfeld County job search experts at Merritt.

Proving Your Time Management Skills

July 28th, 2017

Most hiring managers in most industries seek a few core qualities from prospective candidates. In addition to job-specific skills, almost every hiring manager—from those in manufacturing to education to food service—wants employees who commit themselves fully to the job. They also want employees who don’t require extensive oversight and those who can handle tasks and solve problems independently. And almost all managers want a team who can manage their time to the best advantage of the company.

If you know how to break your day down into hours and minutes and use each hour to complete useful tasks that move the company—and your own career—forward, then you’re a master of time management. And you’ll need to highlight this ability in your resume and cover letter. Here are few moves that can help you accomplish this.

Be direct.

When in doubt, it’s okay to simply say “I’m a master of time management”. You can use this exact statement in your cover letter or your job interview, but keep in mind: You’ll have to provide evidence to back it up. What specific events or accomplishments from your past can you share to drive this message home? Gather two or three concrete memories or quantifiable victories and list them as bullet points in your resume. As for your interview, get ready to tell your story, even if you aren’t specifically asked.

Explain your strategy.

People aren’t usually born as exceptional time managers. Babies aren’t very good at this skill, no matter how their personalities develop later on. So if you’re an efficiency wizard, explain how you got where you are. Explain the methods and strategies that you’ve discovered and how they help you stay on track. Share what you’ve learned, and share how you learned it.

Be open to growth.

Recognize that no matter how organized and driven you may be, there are always moves you can use to get more out of the day, multitask, delegate, coach and strategize your way to improvements in this area. Stay receptive to new information.

Explain how you’ve gone the extra mile.

Don’t just boast about what you’ve gained from your time management expertise; be sure to mention what you’ve invested. If you stayed late to develop a new plan, or broke the rules to chart a new course that ultimately worked out well, bring these facts and stories to your reviewer’s attention. Describe the risks you’ve taken, the losses you’ve sustained, and the mistakes you’ve made—But focus on the happy endings and lessons that resulted.
For more on how to grab the spotlight and show off your time management skills, turn to the Westchester County job search experts at Merritt.

Are you Prepared to Answer Questions About Salary?

June 16th, 2017

As you apply for a new position, you’ll probably be asked to supply a resume that documents your previous job titles, and you may be asked to furnish references who can speak candidly about your character. Your prospective employers can use these details– plus any information they find online—to assess your readiness for the role. But most employers don’t want to stop there; they’d like assurance that you can do the job, but they also want to know how much your services will cost. And to make that assessment, prospective employers may ask some challenging questions. Will you be ready to answer? Keep these tips in mind.

Your previous salaries are (usually) your business and your business alone.

Prospective employers do not have a right to your salary history. If you’re asked what you earned at your last job, you’re under no obligation to answer honestly, or at all. Many job seekers don’t recognize this, and when faced with a firm question from a panel of serious-looking hiring managers, they feel pressured to respond. As a result, they’re often presented with an offer that’s equal to or just above whatever they were making in previous roles, and over the long term, this can seriously limit their earning potential and financial growth. Think about it: if you make a negotiating mistake while landing your very first job, this mistake could haunt you for life…but fortunately, it doesn’t have to. Past jobs are in the past, and unless your salary history is publicly available online, it’s nobody’s business but your own.

Answer by providing your preferred range.

Instead of answering with: “I made $52,000 per year, plus benefits,” you can say “My salary was in the fifties.” Even better, you can say: “I’m looking for a salary between $60,000 and $65,000 per year.” It’s what you want and what you’re willing to negotiate for that matters. Be sure the lowest end of your range still falls within the amount you can accept. And keep in mind that an offer at the lowest end of your preferred range sends a message about how much your work is valued and how much this company can afford. Either could indicate a red flag, so keep your eyes open.

Salary history and public employment.

If you work or previously worked in a government role, your salary history may be made public, so recognize this before you attempt to negotiate for an offer that’s vastly above your past earnings. Keep your expectations reasonable, and be ready to provide a clear list of all the reasons why you’re worth what you’re asking for.

For more on how to set the opening stage for your salary negotiation, contact the job search and career management experts at Merritt.

Leadership Skills Every Employee Needs

May 26th, 2017

You might not believe your current job requires anything that can be defined as “leadership”. In fact, you may look around your work environment and see yourself as the lowest person on multiple totem poles. Or you may not interact with your coworkers in a way that suggests hierarchy or levels of influence. You may contribute to a team of equals, or you may be the newest and least influential person in every room you occupy. But we have news for you: this won’t always be the case. You have a greater impact on others than you realize, and your influence will only grow with time. So in order to thrive, you’ll need to build a few critical leadership skills. Start now and within a few years, you’ll be on your way up the ladder.

Speak up.

Practice raising your voice in order to make your thoughts and feelings heard. Don’t wait for an invitation; just speak, even if it means interrupting someone or setting yourself up to be interrupted by others. Words have no power if you don’t use them, and speaking up usually brings lower risk than you might imagine. Gather your courage and join the conversation.

When you want someone to do something, tell them.

Instead of hinting or insinuating, just make your request. When you need a pen from distant shelf, say “Can you hand me that pen, please” or simply “Grab me that pen over there, thanks.” If you simply express abstract sorrow regarding your lack of writing equipment, or go to impractical lengths to get the pen yourself, you miss out on an opportunity to practice issuing a request and enlisting the help of others to get things done.

Take up space.

Gracefully accept what’s yours. In fact, assert yourself a little bit in order to reach out and take it. When you’re offered a chair, take possession of the entire chair, including the armrests; don’t perch nervously at the edge. The same applies to your work area, your salary, and the resources you require in order to do your job. None of these things are gifts. You deserve them, you earned them, and they’re yours by right. So take them and say thank you. Then move on.

When you’re right, stand your ground.

If several members of your team suggest opposing plans, and you know that yours is the best idea on the table, don’t let go until you receive evidence that an alternate plan may offer more benefits. Push for your ideas and suggestions, and while you’re at it, stand up for others who propose great ideas, and don’t let them be shouted down. Amplify the voices of those who have something to say that might benefit the team.

For more on how to exercise your small but growing influence in the workplace, reach out to the Connecticut career management professionals at Merritt Staffing.

Keys to a Successful Interview

April 21st, 2017

If you’re like many candidates, you might approach the interview process from deficit perspective, meaning you automatically place yourself in an inferior position with regard to your interviewer. You want the job (presumably) and the interviewer has the power to grant or withhold something you want. So you might see the relationship like a student taking a test or an employee asking for a raise.

But this doesn’t accurately describe the interaction, and seeing things this way can prevent you from taking full advantage of the opportunities of the moment. Instead of approaching an interview like a parole hearing or a pop quiz, treat this process like a simple conversation between two equal adults. You both have something the other may want, so listen as much as you speak, and ask as many questions as you answer. Keep these tips in mind.

You’re here to learn and so is your interviewer.

When you sit with another person to have a conversation—any kind of conversation at all—you’ll have more success if you focus on an honest attempt to learn something you didn’t know before. If you’re arguing, try to understand the other person’s point of view. If you’re getting to know each other, ask smart questions and listen to the answers. And if you’re applying for a job, use this moment to glean as much as you can about the nature of the job, the mission of the company, and the culture of the workplace. Ask, listen, and ask some more.

There are no right or wrong answers.

Your interviewer will want to assess various aspects of fitness for the role. But that’s her job, not yours. If she asks you to describe your working style or your background, answer fearlessly and honestly. Don’t tell her what you think she wants to hear. Job interviews are like dates; misrepresentation doesn’t help either party. By the same token, ask your own bold questions and expect honestly from your interviewer.

There’s no better time than now.

You may want to bring up salary issues in a delicate way, but all other aspects of the job and the potential relationship will need to be hashed out before any agreements are signed, and the sooner this happens, the better. There will never be better time to bring up any concerns you have about this position. So ask now, and you’ll save both yourself and your interviewer from hassle and wasted time. Before you leave, clarify any confused or unaddressed issue. Don’t allow your interviewer to trail off or avoid questions that can help you make an important decision about your future.

For more on how to step into your job interview with optimism and confidence, turn to the staffing and job search team Merritt.

Can a Recruiter Find me a Job?

March 17th, 2017

As you search for work, you lean heavily on a few tested and proven resources. For example, you’re contacting every member of your network who might be able to help you. And chances are, you’re combing the internet each day searching for job posts in your field and in your geographic area. You have a resume posted online and you’re making the most of your informational interviews and meetings with your mentors. But what about recruiters? Should you call a recruiting agency and ask for some help? Should you answer those mysterious messages from recruiters that sometimes show up in your inbox? Can a recruiter help you land a job? Here’s our answer.

Reaching out directly.

If you pick up the phone and contact a staffing agency you’ll be asked a few questions about what you’re looking for, and you may be asked to stop by the office for a personal meeting. The ways in which we can help you will depend on your needs, and the wider your flexibility, the better. If you’re willing to accept a temporary position, we can assign you on a contract basis to employers who need temporary or seasonal help. If you’re looking for a full-time role in a specific field, we can help with that too.

Answering messages from recruiters.

Recruiters don’t always reach out directly to job candidates, but when they do, this may happen in the form of an email or blind phone call based on a review of your online resume. When a recruiter contacts you to say “I think I have the perfect job for you”, your first thought may be, “How did you find my information?” If you’re curious, just ask. Then move on to the next step.

If you like the job, act.

If the job description you receive seems promising, call or email the recruiter back. Ask for more information and be willing to answer a few basic questions about yourself and your job search. Never give out information that should not be made public, like social security numbers or credit card information. No legitimate recruiter will ask for these things. (they’re paid by their employer clients, not by you.)

Don’t wait.

After this exchange of information, hang up and get back to your search. You may or may not hear from this recruiter again, since they may not maintain a dialogue if you aren’t a fit for the role. Remember two basic rules of an effective job search: be polite and stay in motion.

For more on how to work with recruiters and help them to help you, reach out to our professional recruiting team at Merritt Staffing.

Job Seekers: Cut Through the Noise

February 24th, 2017

As you sift through job boards and personal contacts, reaching out to employers and sending out resume after resume, you’re confident that your credentials will speak for themselves. You’re great at what you do, and you have the track record to prove it. You also hold all (or most) of the necessary education and certification requirements that your target employers are looking for. They need a Masters in Education? You have it. Bachelors in Geology? Check. Fluent French speaker? Check. License to practice in the state of Indiana? Check.

But there’s just one problem: everyone else who applies for this job will also hold these credentials. So how can you set yourself apart? What can you do to stand out in a crowded field of dozens, or even hundreds, or qualified applicants? Here are a few distinguishing moves.

Lean on your connections.

Check Linkedin and Facebook, and the company’s personnel directory to find out if you have any contacts at all (even friends of friends) within the organization. Any name you can drop or testimonial you can request will instantly separate you from a crowd of faceless resumes. No matter how thin your connections may seem, use them. Don’t miss an opportunity.

Leverage your overlaps.

The company needs a BS in Accounting, and you have that. Great. But you might also notice that the company is opening new offices and expanding its consumer market in South America. And it just so happens that you speak fluent Portuguese. Could this help you land the job? Maybe. Should you mention this skill in your cover letter? Yes, absolutely. Some of the other applicants will have language skills. Most of them will have accounting skills. Very few will have both.

Use your formatting skills.

Your resume should have a visual layout and a calm, pleasing sense of design that allows your message to shine through. Keep your font size and line spacing relaxed, not tiny and crowded onto the page. Instead of packing in volumes of text, rewrite your phrases and sentences. Summarize your points elegantly you can say more while using fewer words.

Use color to your advantage.

Add a dash of color to your resume document by coloring your heading text, the outlines of your text boxes, or the separations between your lines. Choose a color that represents your brand and personality. If you feel passionate about your work, use red. If you’d like to seem cool and collected, use blue. If you’re going for a creative vibe, try green.

For more on how to give your resume a certain special flair that can help you stand out and get noticed, contact the job search experts at Merritt.

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