Mar 13, 2009 | Post by: Vikki Pachera Comments Off on Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

It has been said that success covers a multitude of sins. Like a delicious frosting covering the cracks, bumps, and imperfections of a newly baked cake, success smoothes over one’s flaws.

When companies are successful, they are often overstaffed which can shield the need for performance management. The underperformers are sheltered by the over achievers. As a case in point, take the Silicon Valley circa 1999, the heart of the dot com explosion. It’s been said that if you had a pulse in that era you could land a job. With unemployment at 1% during that time, Interwoven even perked new hire engineers with a two year lease on a BMW Z3.

But, as you probably have noticed, it is not 1999. Our nation, our economy, our markets, and the majority of companies haven’t been all that successful of late. We’re all under enormous pressure to reduce costs, become more efficient, and be productive. And whether you’ve been a victim of this pressure or you’re living it, it’s imperative that you put your best foot forward.

Companies are running lean and mean, and behind every job opening is a hard fought fight. Resources are prioritized based on what’s required vs. some other competing need. Hiring managers are not going to compromise; they are not going to settle for less than near perfection. The bright light of scrutiny is on them.  All too often, even at midcap public companies, the COO or CEO weights in on the hire.

And yet, as an executive recruiter, I am often amazed. Despite the millions of jobs that have been lost in the last few months and the 10% unemployment rate in California, too often I cannot believe what passes for acceptable communication, appearance, and content. Maybe it’s the arrogance that is frequently part of the DNA of high tech. Maybe it’s experience. After all, it’s been proven that experience can breed an overconfidence that actually diminishes performance. Maybe it’s a lack of self awareness. Maybe it’s the ‘Twitter age’.

Sure, Twitter, texting and mobile messaging all have a place. But in professional communication, you need to be as near perfect as possible. Many, if not most, executive recruiters readily disqualify candidates who cannot communicate properly. You know that line, ‘excellent written and verbal skills required’? You need to pass that test.

Check your Linked In profile. Are you one of the 15-20% who have a typo in your bio? How about the emails you send? Do you write in full sentences? Is your grammar correct? Have you proofread for proper punctuation and spelling? I know writing is a lost art, but why not differentiate yourself and go for perfection.

A big part of your image comes from your appearance—what you wear and how you put yourself together. I worked at Apple for ten years and loved wearing jeans or shorts to work every day. But, for those 50 business trips I made to Japan, I wore a suit. It seemed common sense at the time to wear what is appropriate for any given interaction.

There’s a lot about your appearance that telegraphs how contemporary you are, and that holds true no matter your age. If you are over 50, you can do a lot to make yourself look relevant and contemporary without crossing the line. At the same time, there are a lot of 30 year olds who feel dated despite their chronological age. And, there are a few who come off like they wouldn’t be able to go out for drinks after work.

Of course, the most important thing–though not the only thing–is your ‘content’. Do you have a track record of success? Can you prove and communicate effectively a wealth of unique and deep experiences?

Unfortunately, unlike communications and personal appearance, content is something that you’ve spent your life creating. As they say, don’t wait until you were thirsty to dig a well Building content is something that you should focus on your entire career.

In today’s market, there’s no way to camouflage how good you are (or aren’t), what you’ve accomplished, and how people perceived you.

• For sales roles, the numbers speak for themselves and you’ll be asked to provide them. You either have a great track record in selling or you don’t. Be prepared to back yourself up with your W2.

• For other roles, expect that deep reference checks will be done not just with the people whose names you provide, but a slew of others as well. If you are an ‘outbound’ executive in marketing, for example, you should have a nice portfolio of quotes, articles and speaking roles easily discoverable on the Internet.

Finally, you can differentiate yourself by getting back to the basics. How about sending a ‘thank you’ note to the team after your face-to-face interviews? Better, how about that candidate who took the time to write up a straw man proposal on how he’d approach the program if he got the job? Well, he’s about to find out because he just landed it.

For any given executive role that we’re working, we almost always have over a 100 candidates, sometimes 800 to 900. And yet, the top candidates, the ones who receive offers often have multiple offers. Why are they in that situation? They are in this enviable spot because they are on the top of their game, all cylinders firing, putting their best foot forward.

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