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Tips on Navigating Your Career from Scot Herrick of Cube Rules

Expert Interview Series

Scot Herrick

Founder, cuberrules.com

Scot Herrick, founder of Cube Rules, helps people become Cubicle Warriors by helping them find a job, have job success and build employment security.

We recently checked in with Scot to get his advice on navigating your career– starting with writing a resume through nailing your interview and knowing when you need to switch careers. Here's what he shared:

What's your professional background? Can you tell us about your interest in helping individuals find a job and success and build employment security? What inspired you to write on this subject?

My career has been wide-ranging– from individual contributor to management. At one point, as a director, I had 10 project managers, two process experts and two quality assurance people reporting to me. 

Currently, I'm a Senior Infrastructure Project Manager in my day job working on global projects for an international insurance company. 

The reason I wanted to write about these subjects was because too many people didn't understand that there were "Cube Rules" for how you worked your career. And when I became a manager, I discovered that too many people really didn't understand how to deal with career transitions– getting promoted, writing resumes, doing job interviews and those sorts of activities. Mostly, it is because we don't use those skills very often– but those skills are critical to employment security and moving ahead in a career.

What are the most important lessons you've had to learn in your professional life on finding and thriving in a job?

These:

  • We owe a company our work, but not our loyalty because corporate loyalty does not exist
  • Personal loyalty exists, but is trumped by management– if your department is being eliminated, personal loyalty doesn't count; you get laid off
  • Your manager is your most important customer
  • Job skills + job performance = opportunity
  • In today's world, you can't grow after a promotion into the job; you mostly need to be doing the job already to get promoted in the first place
  • Most corporate performance ratings are more related to budget than your job performance
  • There is no job security, only employment security– having skills and performance to help a future hiring manager know that you can help that manager reach business goals

This, perhaps, comes across as negative, or harsh. But really, what I am offering to a company is a set of job skills that will help a manager meet his or her business goals. I am a product to a corporation (but not to my friends and family!). 

Too many people think corporations will take care of them and their career when corporations really need job skills to meet business objectives. Company's care about you … but not that much.

What are the challenges new graduates commonly face when searching for a job?

Most jobs are not advertised. They are fulfilled through knowing people in your personal business network, which most graduates don't really have.

What advice would you offer graduates on overcoming these common challenges?

The thing is, college graduates have one of the best personal business networks out there– a large number of friends going to work for a variety of different companies upon graduation. 

Yet, upon graduation, they slip away. Don't let those contacts slip away. Maintain contact with your friends on a consistent basis, help them however you can, and only then, ask them about their work, their company or other opportunities for work.

What tools or resources should recent grads be using to track down job opportunities?

The single most important tool to maintain your personal network and to track job opportunities is at JibberJobber.com. Jason has built a personal CRM tool built around your contacts and career. Most of it is free. All of it is awesome.

What are your dos and don'ts for resume writing?

There are far too many to list here. And there are a million pieces of advice on what to do on a resume. As a framework:

  • Because there are a million different pieces of advice, pick a person or approach that you agree with and can work with and follow that approach. Don't take pieces from 25 different sites because it looks like you took pieces from 25 different sites.
  • The only purpose of a resume is to get an interview. Not to get a job, but to get an interview. There is a world of difference in how you write your resume knowing that purpose.
  • While length of a resume is not important, the first page of a resume is extremely important as you get less than 20-seconds from a person reading your resume to get in the "possible" pile or the electronic trash can. I recommend a specific format for the first page to help your resume reader to see your job skills and accomplishments.
  • The person, or machine, reading your resume needs to see how your resume matches the job description. You get "check marks" when job skills match. The more check marks, the more likely your chance of getting an interview.
  • Another purpose of your resume is to show that you have the job skills to do the job.
  • The last purpose of the resume is to show that your job skills produce business accomplishments.
  • Your resume bullet points should start with action verbs (completed, saved, built, etc.)
  • Your resume should minimize your responsibilities and maximize your accomplishments
  • Even if you have a great resume that consistently results in interviews, it is no guarantee that you will get the job. Interviewing is a whole different set of skills and if you have poor job interview skills, your resume won't help you get the job. I once wrote an article titled "His resume was great, then he opened his mouth." A true, but harsh, story. But it illustrates the point that job interview skills are just as important as resume writing skills.

What would job seekers do to prepare for their interviews? What are best practices for a successful interview?

In terms of research, the company web site is useful for corporate speak purposes and more practical items like locations, business lines and employee benefits. It's good for context (it's a Fortune 500 corporation or a small business).

Most people, when they knew that I would be the person interviewing them, went directly to LinkedIn and looked at my profile. That tells them what I'm working on now and what my past is all about. LinkedIn is also useful in terms of looking at the Company's profile page and to see if you know anyone in the company who works there so you can contact them and ask questions.

Outside of the company, you need to prepare– and practice– three to four stories around your major career accomplishments, especially those in your current position. How you tell stories in an interview is different than the stories you tell at parties and it is not natural– so you have to practice the stories so they are natural.

The single best practice for a successful interview is to answer most questions in a CAR format. There are other formats, but I can only remember three letters.

Plan on answering questions in two or three minutes. No more. More and it becomes a monologue and no one likes listening to a monologue during an interview. You use the CAR format:

  • Context. This gives the hiring manager some reference around your answer. "This project involved 40 project members and had a $10 million budget" is a lot different than "This project involved five people and had a $100,000 budget." Both are good answers depending on the job. This helps the hiring manager relate to their projects and the job they are looking for you to perform. 
  • Actions. This is what YOU did for the work. Way too many people talk about what "we" did for the work– an interview is where you need to be very selfish and say what YOU did to complete the work. And if a team of which you were a part did the same function– say IT Requirements– you start your answer with "there were three of us gathering requirements; my role was the non-functional requirements." You do this so the hiring manager knows it was a team so your limited role is not questioned. But one sentence gets you to what you did for the work even though a team was doing the same work.
  • Results. Preferably, business results. Preferably, with numbers. If not business results, at least a description of your work output. "The end result was over 150 business requirements needing to be built into the application."

In terms of time, about one minute on context, about two minutes on what you did for that interview question, and about 30-seconds to talk results. See why you need to practice?

The net result in answering in this way is this becomes a conversation. Answering this way generates more natural questions from the hiring manager. And, quite frankly, if you answer using this method, you will be so far ahead of your competition in the interviews that the hiring manager will practically want to hire you if there is a fit. Seriously. That's how bad interviewing skills are out there.

How should recent grads and young job seekers approach salary negotiations? What do they need to know about making sure they're being compensated fairly?

I don't really have any good advice here. More of my clients have been in jobs longer and there is a better idea of what compensation should look like. 

I'd only note that once you join a company, you get locked into the salary/promotion increase percentages done by policy. So if the promotion salary band, for example, is $10,000 more per year than you are currently getting paid and the promotion percentage allowed is, say, 5%, you won't make the $10,000 jump. Too bad…

I had a friend who knew she was not being paid enough, so she left the company for the same job in a different one at a $15,000 a year increase. Then she came BACK to the first company with all that experience and went for a job that was a promotion and was hired back at a $10,000 increase from that position. So in three years, she gave herself a $25,000 a year raise (plus the annual 2.5 percent raises) just by leaving companies. Which tells you a lot about talent management in corporations.

How can new employees ensure they can hit the ground running in a new position? What conversations should they have with HR and their supervisors to help the transition to a job?

I wrote a book on this (I've Landed My Dream Job – Now What???). 

Essentials are:

  • Understand your goals for the position. If your manager doesn't have goals for the position, it means you'll have to figure out what the goals are through talking with people.
  • Figure out your unique contribution to the team. What can you do better than everyone else on your team? That will help your contributions naturally stand out.
  • Understand the input to your work (where it comes from, who it comes from) and who the customer is for the output of your work. 

Oh, and sorry HR, but in this area, you can't help.

When should an individual consider changing jobs or careers? What are signs that a particular position is not a good fit?

There are only two reasons that necessitates looking to change your job:

First, your job is threatened

Every job has an end date. You should consistently ask yourself (like once a quarter): When will this job end? Threats come from things like getting bought out– both my layoffs were the result of corporate buyouts but I left before the third one caused a layoff and I left on my own terms. 

Or a change in upper management. Google is your friend. We had a new CIO come in and part of her background was outsourcing. My company didn't outsource. Guess what started happening? 

A new manager? Yup, start to pay attention. 

On cruise control, check yourself once a quarter. But with an event change, the radar goes up, stays up and threats are constantly analyzed.

Second, the level of BS gets too high for too long. This varies and is hard to quantify. But think of it as the amount of hoops you have to go through gets to be too much and isn't going to change anytime soon. It becomes hard to get business results from your work (that a hiring manager would want to hire you for…) because you are spending too much time on corporate political stuff or going through administrative nightmares. 

The same level of this may be fine given a set of circumstances. And then you find out you're going to have a baby and all of a sudden, it's not so fine anymore. 

Other than that, proactively, you may no longer be learning new job skills. Or, as a person who likes to consistently learn new things, you are not learning anything new. So you're bored. Basically, if you are no longer producing business results that can be shown to a new hiring manager– or are bored doing so– it is time to start looking. 

I had one colleague who had a personal goal of getting one new job offer every year. He did so to enable building interview skills. To determine what the market was looking for in job skills. To see what the market would pay for his services. He didn't do anything with the job offers for 10 years. And then he did.

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Zack Andresen

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