Q: My boss was hired in 2005 and terminated two years later. Soon after she was hired she brought a friend to the company to do the same job I have been doing for 7 years. She has been given three raises since being hired and has zero experience in our field. I have a number of certifications and extensive training. How do I ask to be considered for the boss’s job without sounding like I’m whining?
A: I don't hear it as whining; I hear it as a great marketing opportunity! Here's what I suggest:
- Don't get caught up in comparing yourself with others. This is about you and what you would bring to the table, not about anyone else.
- Do an objective assessment of your qualifications for the position. Years of experience, credentials, special achievements, unique capabilities, relationships, etc. all count.
- Get clarity around how you have added and can continue to add value to your organization. Practice articulating this in 3 – 5 confidently stated bullet points.
- Prepare and practice your "pitch." This is essentially a sales job that you're doing. You're going to senior management and saying here's what I want to do, here's how I can add value to our department, here's how it would work. Take care not to be ambivalent or use words that would minimize you or your achievements to date. Practice with a friend before going to the next step. Similarly, if there's any data you can use to support your case use it.
- Carefully choose a good time to speak with management. Go in and make your pitch in 3 minutes or less. At the end ask, "So what would it take to move forward with this idea?" In others words, assume it's a good idea and get buy in. If you get any push-back use it as data to prepare your next pitch.
In the end, we don't have control over the decisions people ultimately make, but we do have control over how we influence them. Give this your best shot, assume success, and learn from the results. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Good luck to you!
Q: I'm in my mid-50's and having a hard time finding a job. I've been to several interviews but was never chosen for the position. I'm feeling that between my age and having gained a little weight too that I’m no longer able to compete with younger, prettier women with less experience. Do you have any tips?
A: As a 50-ish woman myself I can relate to what you’re saying. We have to work hard at competing with our younger sisters -- but we do have advantages. I believe age and wisdom can triumph over youth and beauty. Make sure you aren't doing things that are sabotaging your own best efforts:
- Go to the cosmetics department of your local department store and get a free makeover. Learn how to present yourself in the best light possible. Looking good makes us feel better about ourselves and when we do, we perform better.
- Spring for a good "interview suit." Buy something dark in color, conservative, and flattering that makes you feel good when you put it on. Again, it will contribute to your self-confidence.
- Go into the interview prepared to tell the interviewer 3 specific strengths you bring to the party. Practice saying them in confident terms.
- Do some research about the company interviewing you. Be prepared to say how you can help them achieve their goals with your experiences and skills.
- Be upbeat and positive. People hire candidates they like and would like to be around. Smile, have a firm handshake, show interest in the job and the company. Don't just answer questions and walk out the door.
Q: My main "hurdle" is articulating an intelligent idea in a public meeting with my colleagues. It’s quite a political atmosphere with a bitchy audience that doesn’t always engage in healthy debate. Help!
A: You will increase the likelihood of delivering an impactful message if you prepare it mentally before opening your mouth. Here are some suggestions to consider:
- Most women can decrease their communications by about 20% and the extra words won't be missed. Decide if you fit into this category. Remember, using more words softens a message whereas fewer words strengthens it.
- When responding to a question, listen carefully to what kind of question it is. If it's a yes/no, then the first words out of your mouth should be yes or no. If it's multiple choice, you should choose one option and support it.
- The most memorable or most important part of your message should be your lead sentence. Don't fall into the trap of giving a lot of information then getting to the point. Give your bottom-line first.
- Back up your one sentence lead with two or three data points or pieces of supporting information. When you get to the third point, stop!
- Don't feel compelled to fill in the silence after you've given your message succinctly. It will undo what you just did. Instead, ask a question yourself such as, "Did I make myself clear?" or "Do you have any questions?"
Q: I have worked as a kindergarten teacher for 10 years. My degrees are M.A. in Special Education and Pupil Personal Services Certificate as a school psychologist. English is not my first language and I will never be eloquent in English. How can I succeed in my career and get a higher ranking position such as a school psychologist, and not stay a kindergarten teacher?
A: Your question is a good one and I will not placate you with a frivolous answer. Anyone who has a less than ideal background or characteristics for the job they want has to distinguish themselves in other ways. Given what you said, I don't think that will be too hard for you, but here are a few suggestions to consider:
- Put yourself in positions to be noticed. Volunteer to make a presentation to administration, write an article for a professional journal (and circulate it when it's published), or speak up in faculty meetings. You want the content of your messages to be so strong that the accent or grammar is eventually overlooked.
- Build strong relationships with peers and administration. You want people to get to know who you are, not just how you sound. Human nature is such that we tend to overlook the eccentricities of people when we like them and know they like us.
- Define your brand. What makes you different than the other teachers competing for the positions you want? That's what you have to emphasize at every opportunity. This is the foundation of your brand and we all need to market our strengths. Doing so will naturally de-emphasize the areas you do not consider strengths
- Consider an accent reduction class, elocution class, or accent coach. Unfortunately, we do live in a country where we are judged by things other than merit. If there is something that is getting in your way of achieving your career goals you need to address it aggressively. There will always be excuses not to, but once you do you won't be sorry.
- There is something in the way you write that makes me think you are either cynical or lack confidence about ever achieving your goals. If this is the case, it's got to change. People can "smell out" those who aren't confident and upbeat. Make sure the word on the street about you is exactly what you want it to be.
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