Hidden Benefits of the 360 Review for Your Career

December 12th, 2017

Today I had a coaching session with a very smart Silicon Valley professional. He asked about the value of doing a 360 Review, and as we talked about I realized there were at least three great reasons to do it (more than the obvious, surface-level reasons).

I’m assuming you know a 360 Review is where you send a bunch of questions, about you, to different categories of people. Imagine you are in the middle of your contacts, and above you are your bosses, below you are the people who report to you, to one side you have your peers and colleagues, and to the other side you have customers.  These four groups of people are in a circle around you, hence the “360”. You can, of course, figure out other types of relationships, including your family, etc.

So, what are the three great reasons to do a 360 Review?  Especially considering you have to have thick skin because of some of the feedback you might get (if your questions are good and people are honest!).

VALUE ONE: Derived from the exercise of creating The 360

The 360 will have two parts: the introduction, or The Ask, and the actual questions.

When you have to think about your Ask, and then think through the questions, you’ll get greater clarity about what you are really after and what you should be asking. Compare these:

“Hey, will you answer these questions about me?”

vs

“I’m evaluating my career and investigating some options I have right now. I have a number of assumptions about myself but I’d really like to get opinions from people who I’ve worked with and who see me differently. I’d sincerely appreciate it if you could take 15 or 20 minutes and answer these questions about me. Please be honest in your response. I’m looking for your perspective of my strengths and also things that I can work on.”

I should note that a really good 360 will give the person who responds anonymity. This really can only happen if you use a 360 tool (not too hard to find) instead of just asking them to reply to questions via email.

Speaking of questions, what kind of questions will you ask?  You could ask super vague questions that are cute but feel like a waste of time, like “what color car would Jason be,” or “What kind of cereal would Jason be,” or “Why is Jason so great (please provide 10 reasons)?” Instead, ask questions that are directly related to the KSAs of the role, or skillset, that you want to have shine (or are ready to work on).  For example:

How would you describe Jason’s communication skills?

What are Jason’s communication strengths?

What are Jason’s communication weaknesses?

What would make Jason a better leader?

What three things does Jason need to improve?

Those are just off the top of my head… my point is, ask direct, specific questions that (1) can give you real and helpful feedback (2) on topics that are important.

The whole point of this blog post is to talk about benefits that are beyond the obvious surface-level benefits of doing a 360. The benefit spending time to craft a proper introduction is that you get a more solid idea of what you are after (your goals), and how to frame them (communication that you can repurpose in other situations).

There is immense value in clarifying and practicing this!!

The benefit you get in creating great questions is that you get a serious chance to evaluate yourself, perhaps deeper than you normally are (and without beating yourself up). Thinking through those questions should be a therapeutic exercise and, again, a preparation for interviews and networking conversations.

VALUE TWO: Getting real information from the responses, and making a plan to work on weaknesses and communicate strengths

The reason 360s are so valuable is simple: we have assumptions about our strengths or weaknesses that might not be accurate. Who better to give us a more real perspective than people we work with and around?  As important, the perspective we get, even if they are wrong, is super important. By this I mean that sometimes people might have a wrong impression, but their impression might be shared with others.

Here’s an example: Let’s say I am a super great at doing my job… but I’m a horrible communicator and very impatient with people. I might be the best person in the world at performing the functions of my role, but because I’m such a cruddy person around others, no one wants to work with me. Therefore, no one knows that I’m actually good at something, they just know I’m a jerk. This information comes out in the 360.

What do I do with this information?

I want to help people understand that I really am good at what I do. There are many tactics I can employ to help reinforce a strong and accurate and relevant personal brand… I’m not going to go into that in this post.

I also want to figure out how to stop being such a jerk. Sure, I’m awesome, but if no one wants to work with me, or wants me to be around, then what’s the point?  It’s not like I’m going to have a career like House (the doctor on TV) had… super good at medicine, but everyone hated him. It’s unlikely that you’ll get many chances to have a career like his.

So, take the information you get and really work on the feedback. If this sounds hard, it is. You have to face some harsh realities, and do things you haven’t done before. It might mean joining Toastmasters or the National Speaker’s Association. It might mean you work on active listening, or getting better at contributing in team meetings.  When people give you anything to work on, let me encourage you to embrace the feedback and work on getting better.

I’ve read a lot of articles lately about soft skills and emotional intelligence… this is what people say they can’t “train” you on. Work on it yourself, right now, and through the end of your career!

VALUE THREE: This is a personal branding play

You now get to share your career ambitions and intentions with others.  This is tied into #1 above, where you have a great introduction, but it goes a little further.

Look, you need to realize that most of your colleagues know you by what you do. If you are a software engineer, people think of you as… surprise! A software engineer! It’s pretty simple.

You are branded by how people perceive you, including what your title is.

But if you are a software engineer now with strong intentions of becoming a CIO, CTO, or VP of IT or Development, will people realize that?

No one might even think of you as an executive, a strategist, a visionary, a leader, a manager!  Even though you might be those things, or have the capacity to do those things, they just know you as someone who pounds at a keyboard all day long, creating cool stuff.

How do you get around this branding?

By communicating the brand changes! Yes, you are a technologist… and a great one! You also are very interested in taking your career to the next level. Tell people this when you invite them to respond to the 360. Tell everyone… whether you invite them to respond to a 360 or not.

One of the easiest ways to manage your personal brand is to communicate how you want others to perceive you. So use this activity as an opportunity to do just that.

The 360 is a great tool. I hope the ideas here will help you advance your career!

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Who Gets Hired? Not The Best Person For The Job…

November 3rd, 2017

Yesterday I went to a network meeting with product managers, project managers, and software developers interested in product. It was really cool and I learned a lot.

There was a point in the conversation where we were talking about successful software products and one of the guys made a comment like this:

It’s not the best software that wins… it’s the marketing.

Those weren’t his exact words, but it’s the spirit of what he said… and he is right.

There was a point where JibberJobber had I think three competitors who had much better packaging of their websites than we did. Our look was outdated and clunky (JibberJobber is developed by programmers, not designers), and our competition had sites that were gorgeous. Beautiful. Years ahead of what we had.

Those three are no longer in business…

Why?

Because even though their sites were beautiful, they weren’t very functional. They didn’t have the breadth or depth of features that we have. They were pretty but superficial.

But I still had users who said “I’m going over to their site because they look better.”  No kidding… that’s what people said.

We’re still around, and we’re working on looking better… but we’ll always put function over beauty because our users want and need function.

How does this relate to the job search?

I’ll not beat around the bush on this: people who present themselves better are more likely to get the job.

That could be visual appearance, the refinement of your marketing pitches, your accent (sorry, but people judge), your hair, the car you drive, the clothes you where, and even if you misbuttoned your shirt.

You might be the most brilliant expert in your field, but if you are unknown (poor personal branding) or have bad packaging (your personal marketing), you might get overlooked for someone who presents themselves better. To related that to the bold line above, your abilities are the software, but your presentation is the marketing. And you can’t ignore the marketing just because you think the software is better.

That’s just the simple human nature that marketers have been tapping into for centuries.

So yeah, sharpen your saw and get better at your craft, but get serious about your personal branding and marketing and presentation.

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When Your 30 Second Pitch Doesn’t Make Sense

September 28th, 2017

I was really introduced to the concept of the 30 second pitch at the first job club I went to.

Don’t get me wrong… I had heard about it before. But this was the first time I really had to (a) come up with my own, that was relevant, and (b) practice using it multiple times.  Doing either of those, especially (b), is a lot harder than just pontificating about your elevator pitch in a college classroom.

Alas, I did it. We did it. All of us job seekers put together our own elevator pitches. And it was hard. It was hard to come up with something about ourselves, and frankly it was hard to listen to all of the horrible pitches.

The focus became memorizing a bad pitch, and not thinking too much about the pitch as a tool, and the purpose of the pitch.

This morning I saw a good blog post that my friend, Master Resume Writer Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, linked to : How To Get Better At Pitching

In this very short post the author presents five questions to answer before pitching. Just that subtitle made me think “wait, we should maybe not pitch to everyone?”

I thought about how horrible it was to sit through a bunch of crummy elevator pitches. Why was it so hard?

The author’s first of five things is: “Am I pitching to the right person?”

What a great question. When a job seeker shares the elevator pitch they created with another job seeker, it’s usually the wrong message for that person.

It might be the RIGHT message for an interviewer… so I guess it’s good to practice that pitch. But let me encourage you to think like a marketer and know your audience.

Is your message aligned with your audience?

Here are two examples… notice I present two different messages based on the audience:

In an interview: “I have done product management for fifteen years, following a three year stint as a web developer. I found this is a perfect role for a guy like me, who is passionate about business, strategy, and technology. I do my best work when I’m able to own the vision and execution of the product, and have a healthy relationship with customers and prospects.”

To another job seeker: “I’m looking for a product management role in this area. I’ve applied to eBay, Amazon, and Google, but am definitely open to a product management role at a smaller organization. I’m looking for a team that is fast-paced but also wants to develop some of the best technology out there.”

Now, I just spent two minutes on both of those… if I worked on it longer I’d come up with tighter messaging. My point, though, is that you MUST KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

Maybe elevator pitches stink so much because we are simply giving the wrong pitch at the wrong time to the wrong person.

If we know our audience, and they become the right person, we can adjust our marketing message with them.  Don’t go on autopilot, lest you might just regurgitate stuff that makes no sense to them.

 

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Branding and Stereotypes

June 1st, 2017

Wow, it’s been almost a month since I’ve blogged anything here! I’ve been in Europe for the last two weeks (and blogging about it at JasonAlba.com/blog).  I spoke in Belgium at a huge IT conference, speaking about personal branding.  While there, I saw this online:

9gag_stereotypes

By now I’ve been to two of those countries (UK and France), and soon will be in Italy.  I don’t know if those are really true… we’ve had some excellent food in England!

But the point is, stereotypes! Stereotypes don’t have to be true to ring true, or to be powerful or persuasive.

You have to figure out what stereotypes you are stuck with, or should fight, and then create a strategy to fight them!

 

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What is your “Primary Claim?”

December 13th, 2016

When I do LinkedIn Profile strategy sessions, I talk about your “primary claim.” What is the thing (or small collection of things) that you are promising to your future employer? Or, put another way, what is your “value proposition?”

I like focusing on a primary claim because I think too many job seekers… well, pretty much everyone, including marketing professionals for companies, don’t narrow down to the main, primary thing. We are afraid of getting too specific, lest we leave something out of our marketing message.  What if we narrow our message down and exclude people who would otherwise hire us, or pay us money?

Better to just give the entire list of our offerings, or claims, right?

I challenge you, like I challenge the people I do a LinkedIn session with, to figure out what your PRIMARY claim is. If you had to narrow it down to one phrase, or tagline, what would it be?

You can tell your story, and help people understand your breadth and depth, with what I’ll call secondary claims (and some other techniques/tools), but make sure you understand and communicate your primary claim.

Understanding your primary claim makes it easier for you to communicate what you need to in interviews, while networking, and on your marketing documents (resume, profiles, etc.).

Communicating your primary claim well makes it easier to know how to talk about you. This is a profound concept. If you can communicate your primary claim well, the people on the receiving in can know how to communicate about you. If you don’t know what your primary (or secondary) claims are, how in the world are they going to talk about you the right way?  Don’t rely on luck when it comes to your branding.

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The Power of Hope

April 5th, 2016

7steps_mckenzie Last night I went to bed reading 7 Steps to a Pain-free Life. Here’s what struck me:

This book has a lot of steps you can follow to have less pain (or, be pain-free). It’s very feature-rich.  But the reason I’m reading it, and the reason people bought it, is not for the features.  I started reading this book because of the BENEFIT.

Sure, I want to understand the dynamics of my neck and back, and how they all work. Sure, I want to learn some exercises that will be beneficial, but neither of those are the reasons I’m reading this book.

I’m reading this book because I want to be pain-free.  There is hope, according to the title, and the introduction, that the pain I experience can actually go away, forever.

My first exposure to the McKenzie Method was around 15 years ago, when a doctor referred me to a physical therapist who was a McKenzie Method guy. To be honest, this was the most intriguing and honest medical consultation I’ve ever had.  Without going into our first meeting, and the next few weeks, I’ll just say that the results were amazing. What I learned about my back, and one specific problem (pain), was enough to help me go through the rest of my life to avoid or fix that pain.

Recently, I’ve been experiencing a different pain in a different place, and it’s time to dive deeper into some other exercises, and knowledge about the root issues of my pain.  This is all about HOPE.

Sometimes, I am hopeless that I’ll live a pain-free life.  But this book promises me hope.

Switching gears to YOU, I wonder what you promise your future company.  Is it that you can do A faster, B better, and C cleaner than anyone else?  Is it that you are smart and have high integrity? Those are all great, and important, things.  But in reality, you bring HOPE to the employer. Hope that they will make more money, or save more money, or that Headache A or Wildest Dream B will actually come true.

When I hired my last developer, I did it because I want to make serious and major progress in JibberJobber. Not because I want more lines of code written, but because I want to offer more value to my users, and help people get onboarded with JibberJobber better (that’s been one of my headaches for years). She will help with that. I don’t know how many lines of code she’ll add (or remove), but I do know she’ll help us get closer to achieving our goals of delighting people who sign up and get started with JibberJobber.

She has given me an added measure of HOPE.  And that is one of the most powerful things she can give me.

What HOPE are you communicating in your value proposition?  

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LinkedIn Summary vs. LinkedIn Experience Sections

March 29th, 2016

I got this question from Derek, who saw my LinkedIn Optimization course on Pluralsight (which you can get access to for free… read below):

“I just completed the course on LinkedIn Profile Optimization and feel that I have a strong above the fold profile which the video was mainly focused on.

The video didn’t focus on the experience section and what to write based off what you did at the company. You touched on writing mini stories for the summary and experience sections, I am not sure writing only mini stories will give the best overall picture in the experience section. Do you have another video on pluralsight that helps enhance the content for the experience section?”

This is a great question. After doing group trainings and one-on-one consultations for years, I feel like my “best answer” is jelling pretty good. Of course, there are exceptions, but in 99% of the one-on-one consultations I do, and the Profile critiques I’ve done, the answer below will be appropriate.

It’s critical to think about the LinkedIn Profile as one single marketing document.  If you break up the sections of the Profile, and think about them as a critical reader (recruiter, hiring manager, prospective funder, partner, prospect, customer, etc.) might, you could probably guess that some parts are more important than others.  For example, your Professional Headline is not only at the top, but it’s a part of your “mini profile,” and seen in other places on LinkedIn (other than your Profile page). On the other hand, the best way to contact me, or the seeking sections, are largely ignored (by design, because they are so far down the Profile).

If we think about the Profile as a single marketing document, the question is, what is the single message of the document?  I am now counseling my consultation customers to have that single message communicated in a concise and clean way in the Professional Headline.  This is what I call your “main claim,” or your primary claim.  Then, your Summary has five to seven secondary claims, ALL OF THEM SUPPORTING THE MAIN CLAIM.  These can be communicated in various ways, my favorite of which is the mini-stories.

You can see all of this in action in my LinkedIn Profile Optimization course on Pluralsight for free.  How?  JibberJobber users get a free 30 day pass to Pluralsight, which means you can watch this, and dozens of my other courses (including the LinkedIn Proactive Strategies course), during your 30 day window.  Click here to see how you can have access within a 60 seconds – no credit card required.

Okay, so in the Pluralsight course, it’s clear how to position the secondary claims and make your Summary much better than the status quo.  Derek gets that, but wonders what to do in the Experience section, which some people call the job description – the parts in each of the jobs you list in your Profile. This really isn’t a job description, although some people treat it that way. I suggest you make this more about YOU and less about the job.

How do you do that?

I think the best way is to use the exact same strategy as what you used in the Summary section. That is, secondary claims (that all support the primary claim in the Professional Headline), with mini-stories that (a) present the claim, (b) give a “for example,” and (c) quantify the results.

Mini-stories are SO powerful. When you align them with your primary claim, you give further evidence and support that your primary claim is valid, and that you are focused and understand your value.

What I normally see is resume-like statements that are super concise, and super dry and boring. Worse, they look cliche. They look like what anyone else would write that has your same job history, and is making the same claims, and is looking for the same job you are looking for.

Okay, you think, maybe that’s not so bad.  To be honest with you, having resume-speak on your Profile is better than the weak, non-information that I see on too many Profiles. So kudos for having anything that helps me understand you more.

But what I’d rather see you have in your “experience” sections are mini-stories that each (a) make a claim, (b) give me a meaty for-example, and (c) tell me why it matters (ie, the quantification)… this is what we accomplish with mini-stories, and (d) support the primary claim. This last part is important so the reader doesn’t get sidetracked by irrelevant information.

That’s my recommendation… from the summary all the way down through the Experience section… claims, quantification, and alignment.

Do you have a different idea? Leave a comment and let us know!

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The Power of the Brand (Case Study: “The Establishment”)

March 7th, 2016

Let’s talk about branding.  Everyone reading this post has been branded in at least one bucket… millennial (whiners), boomers (old-dog-new-trick), Gen X (not sure what the brand is for us), MBA, privileged, etc.

Still not convinced the brand is powerful?  How’s this: Cruz and Rubio (and Kosich) lost on Super Tuesday to Trump because they are branded as “part of THE ESTABLISHMENT.”  The Establishment (which is a brand,with stereotypes) is all I’m hearing about on the news… “they are part of The Establishment!!” They even use it against each other.

Without going into the political rabbit hole, think about how a brand helps a candidate (aka, job seeker) win or lose.  What are things that your brand is telling people?  Whether they are true or not, if associated with a brand, they are loud and clear.

You might think your brand is speaking for itself, saying good things… and then you find a decision-maker or influencer who uses what you thought was a positive brand and essentially disqualify you.

So the big question is, how can YOU get out from under a brand that is really misbranding you?

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Reducing Friction (In Your Job Search, and in JibberJobber)

November 19th, 2015

A couple of years ago I started to think about the little things that “rub people the wrong way.” The “friction” in the JibberJobber user experience.

Very quickly I started to think about friction in my own relationships… what did I do that seemed abrasive to others?

And that led me to think about JibberJobber users, who every day have opportunities to communicate with others. Have you introduced friction in your communication? For example, type-os or lack of clarity in your resumes, or saying weird things in networking situations or job interviews? Is their friction because of what you wear, or how you say things?

Friction can be good, of course.  If it weren’t for friction, cars wouldn’t stop (or go, the way they are currently designed). But in our relationships and experiences with others, I wonder when friction is good.  And if it is good, it’s probably the exception, not the rule.

Let me give you a concrete example of friction that we found in JibberJobber. It didn’t take to much effort to find this friction… we even had help from users who emailed us things like “uuuuugh!” and “yuuuuuuck!” and “heeeeelp!”  I’m specifically talking about the experience you have when you click on the Import/Export link, under Contacts.  Most of the time people click this link to import their contacts from LinkedIn (or Outlook, or wherever). This is what they say, after clicking the link:

jibberjobber_friction_import_export_old_UI

Can you tell what you are supposed to do? The main problem I see when I put on my UI/UX goggles is that there are too many things to choose from.  You have the main menu (10 or 11 options), gray tabs (11 options), the link on the right, the icons on the bottom…  you have  LOT to look at.  Some people ignore all that and find the Choose File button, and go from there. Honestly, it’s not that hard to do… but there is too much FRICTION.  Too many choices.  Distractions.

Just like our communication, when we are unclear.  We give people too many choices (when we want them to do only one thing, like call us, or go to lunch with us), and we insert too many distractions.  It seems like it’s human nature to distract the person we’re trying to communicate with.  STOP DOING THIS.

Okay, back to JibberJobber… we’ve been working on redoing the import experience… and here is the new page (which you should see in the next few days):

jibberjobber_friction_import_export_new_UI

Of course we still have the main menu (blue bar), but most of the superfluous stuff was moved to a collapsible box on the right.  Note the little arrow icon on the top-right of that box – click that and the box collapses, reducing all that noise.

It’s clear where you are at in the process… you are on step 1.  It’s also clear what Step 2 is all about, and what Step 3 is all about. The friction has been reduced.

This seemingly simply project took hours of design time (to analyze, come up with alternative ideas,  weigh pros and cons of ideas, and prepare communication to the dev team, and then many more hours (weeks, really) for the dev team to clean things up, reengineer the process, etc.

Don’t think that a very, very clean web design (or any design) is the result of a whimsical thought and a few minutes of effort and work.  Of course, sometimes that can happen.  But think about the difference between Yahoo’s homepage and Google’s homepage.  I remember sitting in a computer lab in college, and going to the page I always started with: Yahoo.  It was THE de facto landing page. It had news, weather… all kinds of things that you should want when you fire up the internet.  Then, someone said “you should start at Google.com.”  Goo-what?  What is that?  So I went there. And all I saw was one search box and one button.

How could one search box and one button replace the ultra-useful information that Yahoo offered?  Who came up with this too-simple idea?  Apparently it was Marissa Mayer… she was the brains behind the simple page at google.  What did she do?  She identified why people came (to find something) and reduced EVERYTHING ELSE.  No friction. The page was fast to load, and delivered exactly what you wanted: the ability to type something in and get results.  No distractions. No noise.  Simple, and delivering exactly what the inherent promise was.  (It’s funny to note that she was responsible for that brilliant move away from what Yahoo had set up, defining what our internet experience should be… and now she is the CEO of Yahoo :p).

By now you probably get the idea of simplifying, reducing noise and friction.  You are bought in.  The thing I want you to realize is that the process of getting to a good, clean place is not as simple as you might think.  Put thought and effort into it.  When you come up with a simplified message, you can help many more people understand you, and how to help you.  And that effort is worth it.

mark_twainLet’s end with some quotes attributed to Mark Twain:

“To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself…Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.” (reference)

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” (reference)

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”(reference)

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Simple Example of Branding: Ethics & Enron

October 19th, 2015

I’m doing a little research on business ethics, and I type “understanding business ethics” into Google.  Look at the unfortunate results:

enron_ethics

Isn’t that sad?  We all know that Enron is not the example of good or positive ethics.  It’s THE example of ethics-gone-wrong.

Enron will forever be the posterchild of bad ethics.  How to ruin tens of thousands of lives, careers, retirements, families, etc.

This is called branding, and it’s very powerful.

I guarantee that YOU have a brand.  The people you’ve worked with have brands.  You might have even contributed to their branding!

Is your brand positive?  Is it neutral?  Is it negative?

Instead of just having a brand applied to you, you can strategically work on your branding!  Personal branding is not a fad.  It was even around before the phrase was (think: reputation, or reputation management).  It’s not going anywhere.  How others perceive us can play a huge role in our career success.

What are you doing to have the brand you want, so you don’t end up being associated with something horrible (or even something not as positive as you want), like the example above?

If you are interested in this, check out the Developing a Killer Personal Brand course on Pluralsight, which you can access for free (here’s how).

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