Monday, February 2, 2009

Is Your Knuckle-Cracking Killing Your Job Chances?


I've spent a lot of time lately interviewing people who no longer have jobs. One thing I hear over and over is that they really need to feel they're doing something positive every day. Whether it's writing a blog, teaching themselves a new skill, or making phone calls to network with former colleagues, they manage to keep their sanity by keeping busy and not giving in to panic or despair.

I'm impressed by how many of them want to turn this time in their lives into a self-improvement exercise, focusing on ways they can make themselves more appealing to employers.

As part of that effort, I want to focus on an issue that will not only help the unemployed present themselves to potential employers in a better light, but also aid them once they get a job.

The first thing needed is a video camera. The second is Jay Leno. (If Jay Leno isn't available, a friend or family member will do.)

If you're game for this exercise, the first thing you do is put on clothes that you would wear to an important interview. This gives you a chance to make sure your clothes are not only appropriate and look professional, but comfortable enough you're able to think of more than how you're about to choke in a too-tight collar.

Ask your friend to come up with a list of standard interview questions, but make sure you tell them to add some "zingers" to catch you unprepared. ("Is this your photo on Facebook where you appear to be using a beer bong?")

Now, begin your "interview" with the camera pointed directly at you. The interview should be at least 15 minutes long, with your entire body visible to the camera.

When you're done, get a paper and pen and review your video. Mark down any mannerism you do more than one time, such as fiddling with your hair, clicking a pen, licking your lips, slouching, picking at your face, biting your nails, chewing your lips, playing with your clothing, cracking your knuckles, jiggling your legs, crossing your arms or avoiding eye contact.

Next, listen to your voice. Try and determine if you're talking too loudly or softly, and whether you're easily understood. Do you interrupt the interviewer, use profanity or use "slang" words? Do you say "like" or "you know" too much? (This is a big pet peeve of many interviewers, as in "I, like, was head of my department. I, like, you know, did most of the work.")

If you're not sure what may constitute a bad or annoying habit, consider the things other people may have pointed out to you in the past. For example, if you've ever been told you talk too softly, then you need to work at projecting your voice. Or, if you've ever been told you have poor grammar, dress like a slob, have an annoying habit of jingling change in your pocket, then you've got a place to start looking for improvement.

Further, you can always ask someone who doesn't know you well to review your video, perhaps a neighbor or someone you respect from your industry. Do they notice any habits that are distracting? (Don't put them on the spot by asking for "bad" habits -- they may not want to hurt your feelings.)

You may think that you speak just fine, that you don't have any mannerisms that need correcting. But in this tough job market, you want to stand out because of your qualifications, not because you're the woman who kept flipping her hair over her shoulder or the guy who couldn't stop fiddling with his tie.

It's important to build rapport quickly with an interviewer because you're given only a limited amount of time. While our family members may think it's endearing that we say "for intensive purposes" instead of "for all intents and purposes," an interviewer or business contact is just going to think you're not too bright. Or, while a friend is willing to overlook your habit of constantly petting your beard as if it's a beloved pet, it is just distracting and annoying to people who don't know you well.

No one is perfect. Everyone has bad habits, personal tics and mannerisms that are unique to them. I'm not suggesting you become a robot with no personality. What I am saying is that anything that gets in the way of establishing a better rapport with an interviewer is something that you can improve -- and that's a habit that will serve you well in your career.

What are some ways we can break bad habits that may adversely impact rapport with others?


Lijit Search

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Five Reasons No One Wants to Listen to You at Work

While we spend a lot of time these days using electronic communication, we can never forget the importance of that face-to-face communication that is so critical to our success.

People make a snap judgement about you the minute you meet them. They check out what you're wearing, how your hair looks, if you smell good (or at least, not bad) and then they wait for you to open your mouth.

And that's when many of us really screw up.

So, let's consider the some of the ways we make others wish we'd never speak again:

1. Upspeak. "I am so glad to meet you? I have a lot of good information for you regarding your marketing campaign? It's going to bring you lots of publicity?"
Well, is it or isn't it? For goodness' sake, when you express every thought as if it were a question, you sound like a junior high kid working a bake sale. This was a bad trend started decades ago, and it has stuck around longer than most marriages. Dump it. It makes you sound unsure, immature and unprofessional. Got it?

2. Like. I like ice cream. I like getting a pay raise. What I don't like is anyone using "like" too much. This also used to be only a speech pattern associated with 13-year-old adolescents sporting a mouthful of braces. Unfortunately, now it's permeating cubicles.
"I, like, didn't even get, like, a chance to give my report to like, the client?" you say to your boss.
So, now the boss is wondering: Did you give the report or not? Sprinkling "like" throughout your speech pattern a little bit may be OK, but it's a hard habit to break and can become a big problem. It's time to drop the "likes" from your speech. It makes your message muddled, and is annoying because, like, it takes you like, about, like forever to spit something out. If you're not sure you're guilty of it, record a phone conversation and see if you have developed this unlikeable habit.

3. Using words inappropriately. Do you say "acrossed" when you mean "across"? Or say "for all intensive purposes" instead of "for all intents and purposes"? If you have any hopes of rising through the ranks of your profession, nothing makes others snigger behind your back more than you mucking up words or phrases. Check out online sites that can help you spot some of your goofs and improve them.

4. Laughing. At everything. This can take on a couple of different forms. There's giggling and there's the laughing "huff" that is supposed to be a self-deprecating maneuver on the part of the speaker, but just becomes weird after a while.
Some examples:
"I couldn't get the client's office because I forgot to bring the directions." (giggle, giggle).
"I told him what a bad idea that was since we didn't have near enough time to redesign the website (huff, huff), and especially since I was short handed (huff, huff).

By this time others listening to your giggling and huffing are thinking: What's so funny?
Often the constant giggling, laughing, huffing, snorting, etc., are protective gestures that come about because the person is nervous about communicating a message. The key is to learn to take a deep breath when speaking, and to use your hands more when talking. This is an old trick that will help you keep your breathing even, and keep you from talking too fast and resorting to huffing and laughing your way through a conversation.

5. Saying "I think." Always begin your comments with authority, and saying "I think" makes it sound like you're somehow not 100 percent sure about your opinion. So, instead of saying, "I think we should contract with that company because they're progressive and innovative," you say, "That company is innovative and progressive and would be a great partner for us."
See how that sounds much more assured, more authoritative? You now give off the vibe that you know what you're talking about, that others should believe you and you're an authority on the subject.

These are all pretty simple fixes, but could make a huge difference in the image you present to others. Talk to friends or family about what could be some of your speech "crutches" or record yourself and look for ways to improve. It's worth the time and effort to make sure others are listening to what you have to say.

What other bad habits should people break that hurt their careers?

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