Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How to Land the Leadership Job of Your Dreams

With the jobs picture swinging away from your favor, we know that there are more qualified and talented people competing for fewer jobs. So once you and your fellow candidates are matched for skills and number of years of experience, you have to find other ways to set yourself apart and shine brighter than your competition. You can compete by being the cheapest to hire – but that would be a bummer. (And who wants to work for a cheapskate company anyway?)

Here’s a better way to stand out and get paid what you deserve: Show your interviewer that you have the heart and smarts to hire, inspire, lead and keep great people…in a way that’s consistent with the company’s culture. Think of it as a management version of plug-and-play.

Employee engagement and company values and culture are still important to corporate life – at least to the companies that are good enough for you. Regardless of what the economy is doing, first-rate companies haven’t forgotten that creating and sustaining an engaged workforce continues to be the secret to their competitive edge. And they want managers who will help them make that happen.

And for good reason. Top-drawer employees throughout the ranks are expensive to hire. They’re expensive to lose, and even more expensive to replace. Passionate people volunteer their discretionary efforts and genius above and beyond the call of duty. They say good things about their company and the company’s products. They recommend their company as a great place to work. And they’re more likely to stick around, even if someone else offers them brand, spanking new jobs, even at better pay.

Who makes these golden employees feel all these warm and fuzzy feelings? Why, their bosses do, of course. And that would mean you. You’ve probably heard this principle before: People don’t quit their companies, they quit their bosses. (Which, unless you were laid off, could be a reason why you are on the job market yourself, come to think of it.) Top-notch employers have been recognizing this fact for years now, which is why millions of dollars are spent every year measuring an employee’s engagement factor on the job. The results of these surveys are usually interpreted mainly as, “Okay, how’s the boss treating you?” If you’re the boss, and you’ve been treating your people shabbily, it’s going to show up as low engagement scores. If you have been treating your people brilliantly, that’s going to show up as high engagement scores for you as well. And you should be able to leverage that happy track record in your own search for a new job.

So, how can you use this in your job search? Simple: Recognize the fact that if you’re interviewing for a leadership position, companies want to know more than whether you can do the job. They want to know that you can inspire your team to do their jobs as well…and not leave a trail of offended and bruised feelings in your path. It’s a scary thing for companies to hire managers from without. They know that managers come to them with many habits already set – carved, most likely, by the culture of their previous employers.

Bear in mind that while recruiters and interview panels are considering your resume, they are also silently pleading with you, “We’re tempted to hire you because you’re obviously a star in your field…but please oh please oh please don’t screw up our culture!”

The way to land the leadership job of your dreams is to be sensitive to the fact that a culture- and values-driven company is hiring you to do more than just carry out your responsibilities. It is also entrusting you with the thing it cherishes most – the trust and good will of its employees. So while all those other candidates are yammering on and on and on about their technical skills and years of experience, set yourself apart by talking a little bit about your journey to becoming an engaging manager.

Here are some of the questions you should be prepared to answer:

* What would you say are the characteristics of leader who keeps his/her team motivated and focused on the goal?
* As a manager, what do you consider to be your primary responsibility?
* Tell me about a time when you led your team through an extraordinary project or accomplishment.
* If you’ve been a manager before, talk about a time when you saved an otherwise great employee whose recent performance put him in danger of losing his job?
* What characteristics do you look for when interviewing people for jobs?
* What do you do when you see a high-potential employee’s performance begin to fail?
* What are your opinions about annual performance reviews?
* Let’s say you have to implement a major change inside your department. What steps would you take to get your team to help you make that change?
* Tell me about a time when you learned something about yourself when dealing with a challenging employee situation.
* Who was your most influential boss so far and what did you learn from that person?
* How did you grow as a result of your last job?

As a seasoned manager, or someone who is ready for that next step, you should be ready to have answers to these questions. Even if you haven’t been a manager yet, you should be thinking about these things now.

Don’t wait to be asked those questions…it could be that your interviewer may not be savvy enough to ask. But, if you volunteer a few well-thought out comments that demonstrate that you’re a sensitive, thoughtful, wise people leader – one who is also humble enough to know you have lots to learn from your own direct reports – you will send the hiring company the signal that there’s just something about you that they must have on their team.

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