How to Get the Most Out of a Star Performer

While it is easy to focus on how to deal with employees who are under-performing, I have found that it is equally important to know how to get the most out of your star performers. Not only do top performers contribute to the output of the team, but they also help challenge and inspire every other member of the team to be their best. As a manager, it’s easy to overlook your top performers because they often excel at operating independently, and they are delivering good work. However, doing so can lead to losing your best people as they get bored or look elsewhere for more challenges. Think of it this way- you’ve done the hard work of hiring well and training this person, so don’t stop there! The following strategies will help you keep your star performers happy and engaged.

1) Ask About Their Priorities

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the hardest things your top performer will face is the number of options he or she has. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that they will follow the progression that you did. For example, in my previous life as a manager I had a strong tendency to assume that everyone on my team who was performing well wanted to end up in a management role. This is so not true! Someone who excels at the content and the technical areas of their role may want to grow into a management role, or they may want to continue to develop subject matter expertise. They may want to become an expert who focuses on one specialty, or maybe they are itching to gain broader experience. The point is, “professional growth” means different things for everyone, and in order to help your employee feel challenged and engaged, you need to ask questions and listen in order to identify his or her priorities.

2) Make a Plan

Now that you know what is most important to your star performer, work together to put a plan in place. While you may be constrained by resources like time, budget, and team design, the simple act of having a plan will make both of you feel better. Setting expectations with your employee about what is reasonable will help him know how things will unfold. Often, uncertainty about professional growth or career direction is at the root of unhappiness and boredom. Therefore, even if your plan isn’t perfect, just having it in place (and sticking to it!) will do wonders to give your star confidence that you are attending to his career development goals.

3) Think Beyond Your Group

Now is not the time to be selfish. Although you most likely want to keep your top performers for as long as you can, you need to think creatively about how to keep them engaged and happy while still keeping them primarily focused on your team. One way to work around organization design constraints is to help them get involved in projects around the company. This does a few things. Firstly, it gives them an opportunity to build relationships and get exposure beyond your team, which will certainly help in their long-term career goals. Secondly, it gives them a way to test new responsibilities and challenges in a low-risk setting. If they don’t end up excelling at a possible new path, they will still have your team to come home to. This ensures that this proposition works well for both of you. You get the benefit of keeping them most of the time, when you most likely wouldn’t otherwise, and they get the exposure and experience without all the risk of switching roles. Another things to consider is to have them help you build up bench strength by training and mentoring more junior members of the team. We’d all like to learn from the best, and this gives your star a taste of leadership. It’s a win for you, your star, and your junior team members.

We’ve all heard that some teams excel while others never really hit their stride, and that it isn’t necessarily about just having the right people. This is true in sports and it’s certainly also true in business. One often-overlooked component is how the manager treats the high performers to make sure they stay engaged, interested, and continually challenged.





3 Tips for Responding to Critical Feedback

I have written previously about how to give critical feedback effectively, and how to ask for it. The other part of the equation is what to do once you receive critical feedback. It can be emotionally difficult, even if you asked for it, so it’s worth it to take some time to figure out how to process feedback thoroughly and make the most use of it.

1) Reflect on Whether It’s True

When we get feedback, most of us tend to immediately decide whether we agree with it or not. This impulse is totally natural, and it comes from a good place — having a strong identity. However, sometimes the feedback that can have the most impact is feedback that doesn’t fit with our view of ourselves. Feedback that takes you out of your own idea about what you’re “good” and “bad” at is the type of feedback that leads to real growth. If we wanted to rely on our own views, we wouldn’t have bothered to ask for feedback in the first place, right? So even though it’s hard, pause when you get the feedback, and resist making a snap judgment about whether you agree. Let yourself think about it and really reflect on it without judgment or anger. You may end up in the same place, and that’s ok, the process will still have been worth it.

2) Get Multiple Views

Since we do all have a very clear vision of ourselves, it’s easy to think that our view is the only view. However, it’s important to separate intentions from impact. By intentions I mean how you meant something to sound and how you thought you were coming across.  Often in the face of critical feedback, it’s easy to defend yourself by clarifying what your intentions were. While intentions are important, sticking to this point will blind you to the real area for improvement: understanding how you were actually perceived. Therefore, the greatest value in the feedback is that it will help you understand how others perceive you. Since one person’s view may not be the majority view, it’s a good idea to ask other people.  Don’t just go for quantity. Instead, think about who you trust, who knows you well, and who is skilled or experienced in the attribute in question. Then ask for their opinions, and keep an open mind for what you might hear. By doing this and asking for their honest views, you will get a much more accurate picture of yourself. Feedback is, after all, just a collection of opinions, so the best way to get an accurate picture is to ask more people.  While this can be uncomfortable, it is a very powerful thing, because it will allow you to make changes to your behavior that you wouldn’t have made otherwise.

3) Get Specific

I covered this in my post about how to give critical feedback effectively, but in case the person you are working with doesn’t follow that guidance, the burden shifts to you to get the specifics you need. Asking for specifics can sound awfully similar to asking for proof, and you don’t want these questions to come across as defensive (another example of the importance between intent and impact). Therefore, a good way to start is by making it clear that you are asking for specifics because you really want to understand the feedback. Ask questions like, “What could I have done differently? When should I have done something that I didn’t do? What was my approach missing?” You want to ask whatever you need to in order to understand the feedback around not just this situation, but whatever the underlying principle is. Only by understanding the principle will you truly be able to carry the lesson forward into your future work.

Tell me: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever gotten?


Tough Questions: Tell Me About Yourself

Whether the context is a meeting with your superiors, an informational interview, or a formal in-house interview, everyone is likely to get some variation of the question, “Tell me about yourself” at some point in their job search. This is a similar concept to the “elevator pitch,” where you need to be able to introduce yourself in 30-60 seconds and leave the other person with a clear picture of who you are. Although it may seem incredibly simple, this is actually a  hard thing to master, because it requires careful consideration to decide what information to include and what to leave out. Although your answer should be short, the impact it can have is huge. We’ve all heard that first impressions are important, and this is certainly the case in an interview setting. Since this is often the first question a candidate is asked, it’s especially important to ace this question and get the interview off to a strong start. Here are some tips on how to prepare a great response.

1.   Explain Your Transitions 

What employers are really asking when they say, “tell me about yourself” is, “what’s your relevant background and how did you get here?” Therefore, it’s important to give an overview of your path. You don’t need to go into detail about each role you’ve had, since that will be the main topic of the rest of your interview, but do give a short summary of each role. You also want to make it clear why you progressed from one role or company to the next. This helps them understand how you make major decisions; it also gives them insight into your motivations and priorities. In addition to explaining the logic of your decision, keep your explanations forward-looking. By that I mean, explain your transition in terms of which skills or experience you wanted to gain in your new position, rather than what you wanted to get away from in your old one. Let’s look at an example:

  1. Example A (looking past): After 3 years, I felt really stifled and I didn’t like the culture so I started to look for a new position
  2. Example B (looking forward): I am so grateful for all I learned in my 3 years there, but eventually I wanted to gain broader experience at a more mature company, so that is why I moved to my next role.

Keeping your explanation focused on what you wanted to add rather than what you were trying to escape keeps your tone positive and doesn’t disparage your former employer.

2.    Weave a Common Thread Throughout

When you think about what to say about each role, make sure you know which common threads you want to highlight. This is especially important if you are making a career transition, because you need to make it very clear that you have applicable skills and interests, even if your former duties weren’t exactly those required in the new position. For example, one of my former clients was in financial regulation and wanted to move into the hospitality industry. These may seem totally unrelated, but in fact he had a lot of experience in building relationships across different groups and in managing complex projects. These skills were both required for the hospitality job he wanted. So, in his answer he focused on highlighting these parts of his job and why he liked those responsibilities, thereby demonstrating his experience and natural talents in these areas.

3.    Conclude with Why You’re There

Since you’re looking for something (whether it’s information or a job) it makes sense to conclude with where you are now and what you are looking for in your next project or role. If you follow the guidelines above, your answer might go something like, “Now I want to combine my skills in {project management} and my passion for {Women’s economic development} to transition into a project management role at a non-profit.” This not only shows that you have the requisite experience, but it also demonstrates that you are excited about the position. This is important to employers because everyone does their best work when they are excited about their role. Employers want candidates who are qualified AND passionate, and this is your chance to show that you are both.

4.     Practice

There’s an old saying my father used to love, “If I had more time I’d write you a shorter letter.” That concept absolutely applies here. It takes effort to prepare a focused and concise answer. I suggest you practice what you are going to say and time yourself to ensure it doesn’t exceed one minute. It should be like reading the back of a book: give the other person a good sense of what you’re about, and keep them interested in learning more. I don’t recommend memorizing your answer, but practicing a few times will definitely help you come across as focused and confident, which will set you up for success in the rest of the interview.

Managing The Emotional Toll of Career Transitions

Like all major changes, career changes are challenging. While there are obvious challenges such as how to market yourself and how to acquire the necessary skills, there is also a huge emotional cost involved in transitions of any kind. Since most people rely on their jobs as a livelihood, and many more as a main source of identity, changing career direction can be downright scary. Over the course of making my own radical career transitions (teacher in AmeriCorps to manager at a hedge fund, for example), I’ve learned some lessons in how to lessen the emotional burden of making a big change.  While I’m talking specifically about career transitions here, I think these ideas could easily apply to other areas of life.

1) Think about your current reality, rather than the possibilities

One of the things I see clients doing the most is getting stuck in the possibilities. I don’t discourage exploration or dreaming — I think that it’s great and it’s a necessary place to start. However, dreaming about potential jobs endlessly, without a dose of reality, usually leads to more confusion than direction. I often hear people say something to the extent of, “There are so many things I want to do that I don’t know where to start.” One strategy I propose is to start narrowing the list down. Start broad, but limit the amount of time you allow yourself to stay in the mindset of “the world is my oyster.”  Start to whittle things down by learning about the realities.  There are probably practical considerations to help you narrow down the list. These could be things like work-life balance or salary considerations. Perhaps there are aspects of the job you haven’t thought about, such as, who knew the fashion industry really involves a lot of math and finance? By starting to ask real questions about yourself (what you like and what you don’t like, as well as your natural strengths) and your reality, you should be able to narrow your dream list down and move it one step closer to a realistic plan.

2) Get over the Idea that there is one perfect job for you

Another emotional hurdle is thinking that whatever you choose to transition to has to be “it.” I always tell my clients to start by taking away the expectation that they have to choose the “right” thing. Think about some of the most successful people you know and admire. Did their careers take one straight line, or were there many turns and pivots along the way? I’m guessing it’s the latter, and yet when we think of ourselves we tend to put enormous pressure on “figuring it out.” Rather than focusing on making one choice and tying ourselves to it indefinitely, I encourage people to think about it as an option. Perhaps it is an option you will enjoy and spend ten years in. On the other hand, you may realize once you get into the day to day that it’s not the best fit. That’s ok too. Give yourself permission to see your next move as a stage of your career and life, rather than an endpoint, and you will be much happier.

3) Use the Scientific Method

Now that you’ve accepted you need to narrow down the infinite possibilities, the question becomes: what to do with your short list? I suggest thinking of it like the scientific method, where you develop a hypothesis and then go out and test it.  You develop this hypothesis of what you might excel at by self exploration and research, and then go out there and test it by getting involved. The only way to know for sure is to experience it in some way, whether that way is working in the role full-time, volunteering, or shadowing. If your hypothesis turns out to be wrong, that is not a reason to panic. It is not a failure. As long as you learn from it, reflect on the new knowledge you have gained, and continue to move forward, it was progress. Big progress.

4) Ask yourself what it would mean if you don’t make a change

I used to ask myself, “What if I make the wrong choice?” That would send me down a spiral of doubt and anxiety. I see the same thing happening to clients all the time. The shift that helped me make some of the most radical changes in my life (e.g. quitting my lucrative job in finance and moving to DC to pursue graduate school) was changing the question. Instead of asking, “Is this the right decision?” I started asking myself, “How will you feel in one year, two years, five years, if you make no change at all?” For me, that was the motivation I needed. I knew that logically, if I stayed, I would only get unhappier. If I left, there was at least a chance I would find something I loved. When you look at it that way, it’s hard to deny the logic of taking action.

5) Get Support

No doubt about it, making changes and taking risks is hard. Really, really hard. Even with all the above work you can do internally, it is incredibly valuable to have outside support. For me, this was difficult because I had to tell people what I was going through. I also had to learn not to be upset when other people didn’t agree with the choices I made. What helped me was being clear about what I needed from people. Those who are close to you want to help, so let them know what would help. Want support without their input on your choice? Make that clear. Want a friend to work through the logic with you and be brutally honest? Make it easier for both of you and say that up front. This can be hard to do, but the only thing harder is trying to do it all yourself.

How to Get the Feedback You Need

Most people recognize the value of feedback, whether it is positive affirmation or constructive criticism. However, most managers don’t give enough feedback. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that 72% of people feel their performance would improve if they got more constructive feedback from their managers. This makes sense, because constructive feedback allows you to understand how others are perceiving you, and it gives you insight into potential blind spots. Since most managers don’t give their employees enough feedback, it is wise not to rely on your manager to do this for you. Although it may seem intimidating to request feedback, starting this conversation is a smart move.

The following tips will help you feel comfortable asking for feedback.

1) Think beyond your manager

The obvious place to look for feedback is to one’s direct supervisor. While they may have some very good insights, they shouldn’t be the only person you to go. They will give you a certain perspective, but it’s important to get a well-rounded view of your performance. Be sure to ask people who see you in different aspects of your responsibilities. For example, ask your peers, your clients, and those who report to you. While your manager should have a big picture view of your strengths and weaknesses, others around you will have had meaningful interactions with you and can therefore provide very useful thoughts on your performance.

2) Ask for specifics

One of the hurdles to getting enough feedback is the feeling that asking for feedback requires a lot of work from someone else. Especially if you want to ask your manager or another senior person, you should be very mindful of taking up too much of their time. One of the ways to ensure you aren’t asking for an extended conversation is to be very specific with your request. For example, if you are working on a specific development area, ask how you did with regards to that area on a recent project or in a relevant meeting. Something along the lines of, “I have been working on making my communications more concise. Can you offer any feedback on the recent project update I sent out?” That is much more targeted than generally asking for feedback. As a result, it requires a lot less from the other person. Being specific will not only allow you to get more helpful feedback, but it alleviates the concern that you are taking too much time from a busy  person.

3) Timing is Important

Putting some thought into when to ask for feedback will have a big impact on the quality of the feedback you get and whether you annoy the other person in the process. The first thing to consider is whether to set up a separate meeting or just find a spare moment after a meeting. There is no one right way to do this, so consider your company culture and your manager’s style. If they are someone who usually likes to have meetings scheduled, follow their lead and set up a short meeting to discuss feedback (I recommend 15 minutes). If, on the other hand, they tend to pop by your desk for short conversations on a regular basis, it’s safe to assume you could do the same for this conversation. The second thing to think about is how their day is going. You want to avoid asking for feedback on a day when they have an important meeting, a big presentation, or an urgent problem. While this may sound obvious, it can be difficult to think these things through if you get too wrapped up in worrying about the feedback. Therefore, it’s worth it to take a few minutes to consider the context and map out a good strategy for the logistics of gathering the feedback.


Tough Questions: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Of all the dreaded interview questions, this may be the one that I get asked about the most. While I don’t believe it’s one of the best ways to get to know a candidate, it is an old standby that has recently come back into favor so it is definitely worth thinking about how to approach it. This question has a strong reputation of striking fear into the heart of interview candidates, but with a well thought-out approach it can be used to your advantage.

1) Think About What To Highlight

As with all interview answers, you should be doing more than just answering the question as presented: you should be using it as an opportunity to highlight your strengths and unique qualities. So to prepare for this question, think through which qualities you want to highlight for the recruiter or hiring manager. You can work this into your answer by talking about skills you want to build on and areas you want to develop.

2) Show Passion

Beyond using this question as a way to clearly position yourself, it’s also a good opportunity for the interviewer to determine how long you plan on staying in a role. Recruiting and training employees is incredibly expensive*, so companies want to know that you are interested in staying in your field for at least a few years. This is an opportunity to show your passion by talking about the impact you would like to have on the field in the future, as well as what types of work you would like to incorporate into your skill set.  This is a great way to show your excitement and commitment to the company and industry of your choice.

3) Keep it General

Rather than stating a specific job, I suggest talking about the things that are important to you and the areas you want to develop in your career. For example, rather than saying, “I want to be the CTO in 5 years,” talk about the goals you would like to achieve in that time. Everyone has a different definition of success, and how you answer this question can illustrate what success means to you. Talking about a specific job title or salary level will indicate that you care a lot about outside recognition or prestige, even if that is not really what you value most.  In contrast, discussing what you want to have learned and the impact you want to have can demonstrate that personal development and helping others are important to you. For example, rather than saying you want to be the CTO, say, “I want to be in a role where I can apply my leadership skills and lead other IT professionals to transform the way a company does business. I’m passionate about how IT can increase a company’s success, so in five years I hope to be in a role that allows me to find personal challenge and make a real impact on a company.” Focusing on both what you want personally and on what you can deliver to a company allows you to demonstrate your values and what you offer to the company.

*Average cost of hiring a new employee is 1.5 to 3x his salary. Source.

How to: Get a Raise

A raise: everyone wants one, but how to get it? And more importantly, how to ask for a raise without jeopardizing your relationship with your manager. No one wants to come across as money hungry, but the reality is that taking initiative about your career and salary will have a major impact on your lifetime earning.

1) Ask for It
The most common reason that people don’t get the salary they want is because they don’t ask for it.  While the unique value you offer to your company is clear to you, it may not always in be in the forefront of your manager’s mind. They likely have other direct reports and other responsibilities to worry about. Many people assume that their hard work will be noticed and rewarded, so they feel that asking for a raise will be unnecessary or have a negative impact on how they are perceived. However, if done calmly and logically, negotiating for a raise could actually improve your manager’s opinion of you. Wouldn’t you want to work with someone who was eager to challenge themselves and confident in their strengths? I know I would.

2) Time it Right

Timing is very important when it comes to increasing your salary. Most people wait until the end of the review period to bring this up, which is a big mistake. By then, you don’t have any more time to prove you are deserving of a higher salary.  If there was something specific your manager was hoping to see from you and hasn’t, you won’t have time to correct this. Additionally, there is a lot of review and oversight that goes into setting yearly compensation. Your manager has most likely gone through rounds of reviews with her superiors and gotten approval from HR. If you wait until your review is about to be delivered, chances are your raise (or lack thereof) has already been determined.  So, to give yourself time to prove you are deserving of a higher salary, bring up your goals at the beginning of the review period. Be honest about what you you want to achieve in terms of responsibility and salary increases. It’s also a good idea to ask them to be specific about what they want to see from you in order to increase your salary.   For example, “I would like to be making $80,00 by this time next year. What do you think my biggest development areas are?  Which projects could I work on to build these skills and demonstrate that I can operate at a higher level?” By asking up front, you will ensure you are on the same page about what’s required to move into a bigger role and earn a higher salary. That way, you can spend your time working on what is most important, and by the time your next review period rolls around, you should have a very strong case for getting a raise.

3) Track Your Accomplishments

Once you have had a conversation with your boss and discussed your goals, don’t go silent. Keep the conversation open throughout the review period. Make sure you are checking in with your boss at least once a month to assess your progress. This will help you avoid getting out of sync with them by decision time. It is also incredibly important that you advocate for yourself. No one else is paying as much attention to your accomplishments as you are, so be sure to keep a running list of examples where you were successful. By staying in charge of your own development this way, you will have a tangible record at the end of the year. This is so much more powerful than relying on someone else’s memory and interpretation of events.


Dealing with a Difficult Boss: The Too-Distant Manager

While at first it may seem wonderful to have a boss who doesn’t keep close tabs on you, be careful not to be lulled into the trap of thinking that no news is good news. A boss who is too distant will not be able to give you the proper attention to guide your professional development. Additionally, they will not be close enough to accurately assess your job performance. This can have serious consequences at review time.  These three strategies will help you stay connected with your manager without requiring a large time commitment from either you or your boss.

1) Set Up a Regular Structure

Meeting with direct reports at regular intervals is a best practice, but despite this I know all too many people who do not have such meetings in place with their managers. Rather than waiting for your manager to request a meeting with you, take the initiative and ask to have a check-in meeting regularly. Even meeting once a month will do wonders for staying connected and ensuring you can update them on your work. Requesting this meeting will also show your boss that you are being proactive about your development. While they may not be of the mind to set this up themselves, most managers will appreciate the initiative and will gladly take the time to meet with their employees.


2) Be specific About What You Need

Once you have a regular cadence of meetings on the calendar, the next step is to make sure that you use your limited time with your boss wisely. While it may be helpful to just get “Face time” and build a relationship with your boss in these meetings, you can gain much more if you approach them with a solid agenda and strategy. Not only will this ensure that you get the guidance you need from them, but it will make it easier on your boss if you are very clear about where you need them to get involved. An example of what you could present to them is this:  “Here’s what I’m dealing with, here’s my plan to approach it, here are the risks, this is what I want your guidance/perspective on.”  This approach is preferable because you are giving them transparency into challenges you are facing, but you are coming with a plan and not asking them to solve your problems for you. Giving your boss insight into your plan will help them get to know you and your abilities. Be specific about where you want them to engage (or that you don’t need their help at this juncture). Once you have set up this background information in an organized way, a collaborative problem-solving conversation will flow naturally. Your boss will know what you are working on (and where you are adding value) and they will be very clear on what you need from them.

3) Get in Sync on Goals and Expectations

One of the biggest risks of having a boss who doesn’t manage closely is that you will be operating under different ideas about what success means in your role. It is in your best interest to talk to your boss directly about what his/her expectations are for your performance.  In this meeting, get as specific as possible. What are the metrics or benchmarks that will be used to evaluate your performance? What milestones would you need to hit in order to be considered for a raise or promotion? What are the key development areas that you need to focus on in order to move forward in your career? Don’t assume that your boss has a clear picture of these, be prepared to bring your view and have an open discussion. After the meeting, it is best to send a follow up email re-stating the expectations you have both agreed to. While this may seem like overkill, it is never a bad idea to have confirmation that you are on the same page. If you follow these steps, you should know exactly where you stand come review time.

Dealing with a Difficult Boss: The Micromanager

The term “managing up” gets used frequently in discussions of what it takes to be successful in the corporate world. One of the most important aspects of managing up is an ability to deal with less than perfect management. Learning how to navigate and improve these situations can alleviate a lot of stress and frustration. Today I am going to focus on strategies for dealing with a boss who is micromanaging.

Micromanaging is one of the most common complaints people have about managers. Why is it so prevalent? In my experience, it is because the behavior that is rewarded in junior roles (e.g. attention to detail) are often not as important once you reach a leadership role. For example, being detail oriented is critical to being a good analyst. As a manager with ten direct reports, however, this attention to details will cause a manager to miss the big picture and make decisions too slowly. Whether you are managing and you are afraid you might be falling into this trap, or you are an employee who is frustrated that your boss seems to be all over you, read on for strategies to overcome micromanagement.

1) Take the Emotions out of the Equation

I am not advocating that you ignore your (or your manager’s) emotions. In fact, I think that ignoring emotions at work is usually a recipe for disaster because they tend to boil over eventually.  What I mean by taking emotions out of the equation is this: don’t assume you know why they are managing you this way, and don’t take it personally. Most people who feel they are being micromanaged think, “my boss must think I am really incompetent.” While this is an understandable reaction, it is based on an assumption. Interpreting your boss’s actions as a personal insult or judgment escalates an annoying behavior into a personal attack on competence and character. Most micromanagers don’t realize they are doing it and don’t know how to stop; it is rarely a direct result of something an employee is doing wrong. So, if you find yourself  frustrated with your manager, take a step back from your emotions and assumptions and focus on how you can change the dynamic.

2) Schedule a Two-Way Feedback Session

This might sound scary, and your level of comfort with this will depend on your relationship with your boss and your company’s culture. That said, it pays to force yourself to do the difficult things, so focus on your goal and push yourself to take this step.  If you request a feedback session with your boss to discuss your relationship, make sure that you make it clear you also want them to give you feedback. Creating an open conversation will take the pressure off and make your boss feel less attacked. In this conversation, be direct with your boss that you feel they are managing you very closely. Rather than exploring your feedback at length, focus on problem solving with them. For example, ask, “What can I do to give you comfort about how I’m approaching this project?” By shifting quickly into strategizing with them as your partner, you take the emphasis off the criticism and focus on improving your relationship in the future.

3) Be Proactive and Transparent

The most common reaction to being micromanaged is to retreat further and try to avoid contact with your manager at all costs.  Although this is an understandable reaction given how frustrating it can be to be micromanaged, this behavior will only make your boss more likely to  stay too close to what you are doing. Instead of waiting for them to request updates, be proactive about keeping them informed. This will help ease their anxiety about not knowing how you are handling something. It also allows you to direct their attention to the level of conversation you should be having with your boss. For example, rather than copying your boss on every email you send out, ask them to spend an hour strategizing with you about a difficult customer or project. Once you’ve given them transparency into how you are handling  it, give them regular updates on how it is progressing. By keeping them informed you are alleviating their concerns and directing their attention to your overall approach, thereby keeping their focus off unimportant details.




How to: Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

I have previously written about a few of the toughest interview questions. Today I’m going to take a step back and talk about a general approach to answering behavioral interview questions.  Behavioral questions are those such as, “Tell me about a time when you dealt with conflict.”  These questions, which are based on past experiences, are one of the most common tools recruiters and hiring managers use to get to know candidates. These questions provide a great opportunity to highlight your strengths and skills by sharing stories of past successes. However, because the questions are so vague, they also leave a lot of room for error if you don’t go into the interview with a good game plan.

With that in mind,  here are my guidelines for the basic 3-part structure of a good answer to a behavioral interview question.

1) Be concise in explaining the context of the situation

One of the most common mistakes candidates make when answering behavioral interview questions is that they spend too much time describing the situation.  You have a limited amount of time to answer before the interviewer will start to lose focus, so you don’t want to spend all your time explaining every detail, history, and character involved in your story. It is best to give a quick overview featuring key points: the challenge at hand, your role, and any other key players who are relevant to your story.  Although it is tempting to think you need to give the interviewer lots of background, try to think hard about what they really need to know in order to understand the main point of the story. You want the focus of your answer to be YOU and something great that you did.

2) Talk about WHAT you accomplished and HOW you did it

Once you have set the scene, focus the bulk of your answer on what you did. The key here is not just to list the steps or actions you took, but to explain how you were able to achieve success. For example, if you are telling a story about getting other people motivated to take on a tough project, you would want to explain what you did in order to motivate people, not just state that you did it. To understand why this is such a powerful shift, think about this from the interviewers perspective: they are probably talking to dozens of candidates, and everyone will claim to have done great things. Who would you be more compelled to hire? Someone who just stated that they accomplished amazing things? Maybe.  What about someone who explained how they thought about motivating people by getting to know them, understanding their priorities, and having open conversations about what had motivated them in the past? I would be much more likely to believe the candidate who told their story that way, as I suspect you would too. With that in mind, think about using the majority of your time not just to explain WHAT you did, but also to illustrate HOW you did it.

3) Conclude with the results and lessons learned

Just like any good story, your interview answer should have a clear and compelling ending. Do not just trail off when you are done describing what happened. You want to end with a confident tone to really impress your interviewer. As a way to wrap up your story, explain what the outcome was. For example, share that you managed to deliver the project under budget and on time after working through the challenges and getting your team motivated to work together. Whenever possible, try to quantify your outcome (e.g. reduced the budget by 10%).  Illustrating your success in terms of facts and figures makes it easier to understand what the positive impact was for your company.  In addition to the outcome, or if there isn’t a clearly quantifiable outcome, conclude with a short sentence about your takeaway from this experience. The best candidates are confident but also self-aware, so showing that you are able to learn from successes as well as failures will help you stand out.