Internship Interview

What does this sophomore know about the Internship interview that graduating seniors do not

Beat the internship interview

Last week we started to explained the Nasty logic on how to land a internship for undergraduates. A sophomore wrote in the below email and I had so much detail, I had to break the post up into two parts. Last weeks post is here, and with her permission, I am posting her email below:

Hi HRNasty,

I realize this is an old post but I’m hitting a wall when it comes to changing my resume for different jobs. I get your point but I’m a junior undergraduate student studying economics with only a few years of work experience and very little mentionable classwork (unfortunately I completed my GEs first so my more complex econ classes will all be in my last year). How can I dramatically change my resume for each job when I have such limited material? The most I could think of is adjusting descriptions to match the job posting, but as you mentioned previously, that isn’t much. Even my career adviser told me to use one resume when I tried to have two different resumes when I was applying to an accounting internship and a consulting internship. Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you,


To be hired, we need to land the first phone interview. Once we get the recruiter on the phone we have a shot of convincing them that we are worthy of being hired despite a less than desirable graduation date.

Per last weeks post, as it relates to internship experience, all candidates are created equal. Whether you have had 1 internship or 3, are a freshman or a senior, most companies look at everyone as an equal. Internships will come into perspective when applying for a full time position post graduation. Candidates will have interview experience and the internships show initiative. The more you have, the more initiative.

Yes, first and foremost, hiring managers would prefer to hire graduating seniors. At the end of the day, they really just want someone who can do the job and help them out in the up coming summer. On the other hand, HR is looking at converting interns to FTE’s. Conversion isn’t as important to managers. The priorities are different. Two years of college or 4 doesn’t matter. If we can “sound” like we can take instruction and play well with others, we have a great shot.

Most intern candidates come to the table with two similar qualities and it is very easy to stand out in this crowd.

  1. Resumes which list very basic accomplishments and lack detail.
  2. Are very reserved during the interview.

These two are intertwined and feed off each other to create an impression that won’t sell. Examples of typical accomplishments listed on an intern candidate’s resume:

  • Ran the cash register
  • Responsible for making sure the kitchen was clean
  • As a nanny, took care of 2 children for a dentist

One way to stand out is to list detail and specifically numbers. In the below bullets, we are saying the same thing as the above, but showing more “scale” and thus, adding credibility

  • Responsible for running the cash register and closing out the till every night. For the entire 3 month job, my balance was only off by $.75 cents and I am proud to say I set a record for “best accuracy”.
  • Responsible for cleaning a 1000 sq. foot kitchen every night. This consisted of scrubbing down the exhaust hoods, changing the oil in the fryers, mopping the floors and hosing down the rubber mats.
  • As a nanny, was responsible for 2 children ages 5 and 14. My duties included but were not limited to preparing meals, driving the clients to extra curricular activities and monitoring the 5 year olds diabetes.

There is one other thing that holds most candidates back in the internship interview.  Candidates are nervous and don’t show much personality. I suspect that this is due to a lot of factors. My theory is that most interns do not know what to expect in an interview and consequently, are not comfortable interviewing with larger companies.

It’s ok to f*#k-up an interview at McDonalds because Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and Jack in the Box are right across the street. There are plenty of these jobs. Interview with enough of these fast food joints and we can quickly gain interview experience for this type of job. We will learn what to expect. Internships don’t grow on trees so it is much harder to gain interview experience at this level. Unfortunately, colleges are not taking the time to teach interviewing skills so don’t feel badly. This early in a candidates career, there is just not a lot of experience or exposure to the interview process.

Internship interview secret

The BEST way to approach an internship interview is to treat the interview like you are having coffee with your favorite uncle or aunt.

When we talk with our favorite uncle or aunt, there is a back and forth dialogue, we provide more detail than we might with a complete stranger in a business setting.

We look at the uncle or aunt as a wiser and smarter mentor, but it is also a casual atmosphere with some joking. This is the atmosphere we want during the interview. This subtle level of comfort that you create with the person interviewing you, will set you apart. Interns usually answer questions the same way they list their accomplishments on the resume. Short and to the point as bulleted above. If you can answer the interview questions with color and detail as shown above you will have a shot.

So, if you are in the internship application process for an accounting position, try to lean your experience to ANYTHING accounting. Mention the use of EXCEL, working a cash register, counting money at the end of the day. ANYTHING accounting will help. If you are going for a marketing position, add info about your personal social media accounts, with links to the profiles. Talk about research papers, or how you follow marketing blogs or reading marketing books in your cover letter. Even if you are a sophomore in school, you CAN tailor your resume to the position of interest.

Lastly, and this is not an intentional knock on career counselors. Career counselors are well intentioned.  Most of them have NOT recruited in the real world or run candidates through interview loops in the last few years. They just don’t have real world experience. Yes, they have seen 1000’s of resume’s.  Have they seen the resume’s go through the entire process or just the resumes that started the process? Don’t believe the hype, multiple resumes will help out!

Like a Boss!


Boss: During a critical moment, a person, animal or thing seizes the opportunity and takes charge and wins or overcomes an obstacle that seems nearly impossible to accomplish.
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired. A phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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internship application

Sophomores and juniors can easily compete with graduating seniors for internships

Internship application

The internship application process is an unknown for many students and I recently received a great question regarding the process. It is a question I am asked about on a fairly regular basis and on further reflection wanted to add a few more points.

I’d like to thank our reader Aubrey for bringing up the insightful question. After thinking about the question, I wanted to add more detail.  The original question and my reply is listed in it’s original format here and below.

Hi HRNasty,

I realize this is an old post but I’m hitting a wall when it comes to changing my resume for different jobs. I get your point but I’m a junior undergraduate student studying economics with only a few years of work experience and very little mentionable classwork (unfortunately I completed my GEs first so my more complex econ classes will all be in my last year). How can I dramatically change my resume for each job when I have such limited material? The most I could think of is adjusting descriptions to match the job posting, but as you mentioned previously, that isn’t much. Even my career adviser told me to use one resume when I tried to have two different resumes when I was applying to an accounting internship and a consulting internship. Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you,


The assumptions

I made a few assumptions based on prior experience when answering similar questions:

  1. The applicant is worried about a lack of experience as it relates to the competition.
  1. The accomplishments listed on the resume are relatively short. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bullets were a single line or less.
  1. This candidate is a sophomore and it is common to list the anticipated graduation date on the resume.

In no particular order, I am going to try and answer the questions and provide further thoughts. With so much information and nuance on this topic so I will break this up into two posts.

The playing field is equal

Thing 1. Remember that the folks you are competing with for these internships have the same amount of experience as you do. Whether someone is a sophomore, junior or senior, the hiring manager and the hiring team look at all interns as folks with “no experience”.

I realize this sounds unfair to the folks with a couple of internships on their resume but until a FTE, professional job is listed, it really isn’t experience. Even if a senior with internship experience is applying for the same position you are, the hiring company looks at you and the senior as equal candidates. It doesn’t make sense, but just trust me.

FWIW, when you are looking for a full time position AFTER graduation, having multiple internships WILL make a big difference. It will give you a leg up on those with only 1 internship or no internships. It isn’t the actual experience as much as the initiative and dedication that these summer positions represent.

Thing 2. Candidates with 1 or 2 years of real world experience are NOT applying for internships. These candidates have moved on and are looking for paid full time positions. A candidate who has held a full time position is not going to be applying for an internship and if they are, the hiring company will be suspicious. Going from a FTE to a summer intern is a pretty big step back unless there is a career change, the hiring company will assume the candidate wants FTE money and not call. Remember, your competition is very similar to you on paper. The playing field is as equal as it every will be in your career.

All interns are created equal

Because most interns look the same on paper, we want to make sure we do everything we can to distinguish ourself from the rest of the chaff. We do this two ways. We create a resume with a lot of detail and interview with personality. This sounds like common sense, but most interns lack resume detail and do not interview with enthusiasm or show any personality. Examples of this next week.

To land an interview with any company, there are a couple of things we can do. Try to find internships via friends, networks and family. This makes it easier to show off our personality and easier for the hiring manager to hear about your skills via the grapevine. It is MUCH easier to land a meeting via friends and family vs. a corporate goliath. Friends and family will make us feel more comfortable when it comes time to interview. This is the same advice I give to ANYONE looking for a job with 2 to 20 years of experience. 

One trick to make it easier for a recruiter or hiring manager to call us is to leave our expected college graduation date off the resume. Instead of stating “expected graduation date 2016”, just say “currently attending”.  In most cases, I recommend we leave high school graduation dates off resume as well. With the college experience listed, the high school tenure is assumed. The exception to this is if you can list highlights from your high school career. Highlights include accomplishments like a high GPA, captain, co-captain or if played varsity sports. Leadership positions held and languages spoken are also ways to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.

The value of a graduating senior can be overcome

From an HR perspective, I want to hire seniors. As heinous as this may sound, juniors and sophomores do not hold much interest to me. For most HR departments, the end goal of an internship is to convert the intern into a full time hire. This goal is different for the hiring managers. HR knows that very rarely is a student going to take an internship as a sophomore or junior and apply for a full-time position when they graduate 2 or 3 years later. Most interns apply for a full time position with the company they held their last internship with.

Hiring managers on the other hand don’t care as much because their needs are short term vs. long term. They just want help for the summer and whether they get a sophomore or a senior makes no difference to most. Hiring managers just need cheap labor for a few months. This sounds horrible but remember, to work on a substantial project, you will need to be trained up. If the internship is only 3 months and it takes you 30 to 45 days to train an intern up on a meaty project isn’t worth the investment. You can be trained in 1 to 2 days to accomplish the simple stuff. This saves time for $75K or $100K a year employees who can tackle the meat. You my undergraduate friend just found your niche for the summer.  

Expected graduation dates

Graduation dates on a resume tip hiring managers off on your long-term availability. The odds of converting a senior to a full time employee are much higher vs. converting a sophomore or junior intern a few  years later. As an employer, getting the company name out in the community via a hired intern is a good thing. In comparison, nothing establishes a hiring company’s reputation like converting an intern to an FTE.  To overcome this bias as an underclassman, leave the words “expected graduation date” off the resume.

It is easy to take advantage of the conflict between HR’s goals and the hiring managers goals when it comes to hiring interns. HR wants to convert interns to full time and hiring managers really just want short term help.

Next week we go into how to list specific accomplishments on your resume to separate you from the competition, whether or not you should listen to university career counselors, and how to interview. 

Like a Boss!

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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Career epiphany

Playing well with others is critical to landing new opportunity

Career epiphany

If you have a career epiphany, you want to share it and that is exactly what happened. A reader of this blog  just let me know about her career epiphany (while reading this blog) and I had to share it with the group.

Career: an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.

Epiphany: a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being

Climbing the career ladder is more than just doing great work. Subscribers to the blog are familiar with my sermons and stump speeches where I preach that we always need to up our game on a consistent basis. The higher we climb, the more we step up. Most of us feel we are working hard, most of us feel we are doing a great job. Unfortunately, it takes more than this to land more money, more opportunity and bigger challenges. To name a few things we need to do in addition to getting the job done, we need to:

  • Get along with EVERYONE, regardless of how big an ass they are (leaders get along)
  • Build teams and be the leader without the title of manager or director
  • Show company pride
  • Add to the culture of the company

Below is the readers career epiphany and again, it is such a great “ah – ha” moment as it relates to climbing the career ladder, I needed to share with the group. I immediately reached out to the reader and asked if I could share here email and she quickly responded with the go ahead. Thank you Viola! (and yes, she qualifies as a hard worker)

Dear HRNasty:

My name is Viola and I just stumbled onto your blog today. I am an aspiring career ladder climber but I have been losing hope as my efforts have not been paying off.

Let me start by saying that i am a very hard worker. I know you say everyone says that but I really am. Last year I was doing a master’s degree full time, running a business, teaching a class at the local university, and working as a teaching assistant. That’s 4 jobs! And i had two children under 4! So I know i’m a hard worker.

I have been teaching a class at my local university since 2013. I got this gig by sheer luck. I live in a very desirable community and there are constantly people moving here because everyone wants to live here. Working at the local university is like owning a golden goose. As time has gone on I have increasingly felt the desire to land a full time, regular position at this university. I am willing to take anything that isn’t at the secretarial level to get in (which would be inappropriate given my level of professional experience). I have networked and even had a meeting with the Director of HR and the Campus Administrator. But nothing has come of any of these efforts. There was recently a full time coordinator job that i applied for and I was sure that i would get an interview. I have a professional degree, and other degrees, and specialized knowledge in an area that was required for the position. I didn’t even get an interview. It has been depressing, more so as time goes on.

But today as I was reading your Job Interview mistake article I had a career epiphany. It IS partly my fault that I am not seeing doors opened to me. Although I have done well at networking, I have not put any efforts into engaging in the university community. I only show up, teach a class, and leave. Although I work very hard to deliver a great course, I don’t do anything beyond that. And, now that i think of it, the Director of HR told me to start doing some of these extra things! Why didn’t I listen to her? I haven’t gone to a single BBQ, I haven’t even attended a single department meeting.

Thank you, thank you SO much for somehow pointing this out to me. Just performing in my one limited role is not enough to consider myself a true keener. I have to do more.

I really appreciate your blog, even though it is a little nasty at times.





Thank you again for sharing our story and your career epiphany. You are absolutely right, great work isn’t the only thing that is needed. The people that are granting the promotions like the company they work for and the people they work with. They want to work with, and promote like minded individuals. We can talk about how we like our peers all day long, but if we are not showing up at the company functions or networking, we will leave a different impression.

It is ALWAYS great to hear from folks who have gotten a little something from the blog and it is even better when we can share the learning with the group. I’d love to send you a HRNasty swag pack, please just tell me your t shirt size and a place to send it. 

Like a Boss!

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

If you felt this post was valuable, subscribe to weekly updates here, (I promise, no spam) “like” us on Facebook, and leave your comments below. Thank you!

Career Goal

Just talking about you career goal with your manager isn’t enough. The “What” and the “Why” is critical and often missing from this conversation.

Your career goal and manager support

Last week, we discussed why it is so important to share our career goal to gain our managers support. Without this insight, managers have no idea how to help us attain the next level. Just stating the career goal (“I want to be a manager”) itself isn’t enough. This is a very small part of the conversation and just a starting point. We need to do a lot more than just state our career goal if we want to get anywhere whether that is life, relationships or our careers.

If you are waiting for the next job opening to be announced so that you can start moving your career forward, you will be too late and miss the bus. We need to lay the foundation and work on our career goal before the job opening is announced. 

We may not have a current career goal and this can be OK in certain situations (which we will discuss below). Just remember, there are plenty of folks who DO know what they want from their career and more importantly have signaled this intent to their manager. Even if they are less qualified than we suspect, these are usually the folks that will land the promotions that we may be coveting. (See last weeks post here for the explanation why)

Whether you know what you want out of your career or not, there are universal moves you can make to set yourself up for future success. Obviously, it is best if you have an idea of what you want to do, and if so, we need to let our managers know ASAP. In addition, we need to explain what we have done to help us attain this goal and what plans are in place for the future to set ourselves up for success.

If you do not know what you want to do just yet, we want to prove and market a few basic skill sets that are applicable to all next level positions:

  • Thought leadership
  • Public speaking
  • Leadership without a leadership title
  • Positive attitude
  • Presentation layer (dress and act for the position you want, not the one you are currently working)

Beyond the technical expertise of the position, there are obviously more skills needed than the above 4, but at a high level, all leaders share the above 4 and the above would be considered a bare minimum for any promotion, transfer or new project.

Lets go back to our customer service rep that wants to take his or her career to the next level. There are a number of ways to demonstrate the above. Tell your manager you are going to do the following in an effort to demonstrate the skills needed to make it to the next level.

  • Put together a top 10 list of customer questions and answers for new hires so they have an idea of what to expect from the department, company, customers, etc. (Thought leadership)
  • Explain that you will be happy to go over this list with any batch of new hires that is brought into the customer service group. (Public Speaking, leadership without title and positive attitude)
  • Explain that your plan would be to keep this list updated and provide answers as new issues come up.
  • You want to build a reputation for being the Subject Matter Expert and if other topics come up, you would like to volunteer.

Disclaimer: Depending on your position and company culture, you may not be able to spend time on this project because there are other priorities. Because of workplace laws, some managers may feel they have to pay you for your work and discourage you from the extra effort. My suggestion is to just do this on your own time and present a simple high level vision to your manager as a showcase. They may be able to advise you of a more powerful way of showcasing your skill set. Try to put this into presentation form for more impact. Talking through your idea won’t have the same punch as a few Power Point slides.

It is much easier to promote someone who is doing more than the job than to promote someone who is doing the current job well

Other ideas that I am literally pulling out of my ass, on the fly:

  • Demonstration / FAQ for a lunch and learn to explain functions of your department, new initiative, technology, or process to others that are not as familiar with what your group is working on. Including and organizing others on your team will demonstrate leadership without a title.
  • Many departments are collecting data and metrics. For many companies, the focus is on collection vs. analysis. Come up with a way to parse this data at a very simple level to show trends, or demonstrate a hypothesis and you can make a mark for yourself.
  • Next time there is a new hire, take the newb to lunch and be the informal mentor, confidant, and buddy. Show them the in’s and out’s of the department, explain the culture and generally treat them like your little brother or sister if they were to join the company.

Here is why the above ideas can be so powerful.

Many managers would LOVE to have someone in the department be responsible for any 1 of 100 tasks that are not being tracked or initiated. But without anyone showing interest in any specific topic, most managers don’t want to suggest responsibility to anyone on their team. Most managers don’t want to be the asshole manager that piles more work on an employee because the usual response is an exasperated sigh of “more work for the same amount of money?” Most managers want to give more responsibility to employees and most employees want more responsibility (as long as it is a project of personal interest). But without direction from the employee, it is just human nature to just take the easy route and “not” give out any projects. This avoids the negative body language like the rolling eyes and deeps sighs of frustration because there is no personal connection to the assigned task. Think about that one for a minute.  

The lunch and learn will demonstrate public speaking, presentation skills, thought leadership, and even the ability to conduct research. You may think that these skill should be obvious to your manager but they are not. Demonstrating skill sets and establishing a reputation will make you a stand out. When the VP asks your manager for someone to work on a project, yours will be the first to be thought of because you demonstrated the ability in the past.

The easy lever with metrics is that because data analysis is in it’s infancy as a discipline, just tracking the data in an excel spreadsheet and turning the data into a pie chart or bar graph can be enough to bring notice to your corporate existence. You don’t need a PhD to show initiative. You don’t need a big presentation; just a few small theories with suggestions on how to leverage the data can establish your niche. Just Google “Basic metrics for “Your” industry” and it is off to the races.

Taking a newb under your wing is managing without the title. Keep the gossip out of the equation and you will be demonstrating leadership and thought leadership. 

The above are just a few ideas that could rejuvenate your career. The point is that we need to:

  • Explain our career goals to our managers or they won’t know how to help us.
  • Explain the steps we HAVE made to meet our goals and the steps we think we should make to meet our goals. Otherwise our goals come across as just talk.
  • Explain to your manager that you want to build a reputation for your “thing” and anytime similar opportunities come up in the future, you want to be the chosen one.

Even if we don’t have specific goals, continue to be pro-active and show that you are a team player BEYOND the job description signed up for. Going beyond your current job description generally means we are performing at the “next level’s” job description. We are demonstrating that we are ready for the next role because we ARE performing portions of the role. 

It is much easier to promote someone who is doing more than the job than to promote someone who is doing the current job well. Folks doing a great job will only go so far. You will go much further with your career goal if you are doing a great job beyond the job description AND updating your manager with your career aspirations. 

Like a Boss!

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

Boss: During a critical moment, a person, animal or thing seizes the opportunity, takes charge and wins or overcomes an obstacle that seems nearly impossible to accomplish.

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career goals

Managers are not mind readers. We need to articulate our career goals

Articulate your career goals to land a job promotion

Everyone has career goals and wants to take his or her career to the next level. For some the next level may be a promotion and for others, the career goal may be a position in another department or discipline. “Career goals” means different things for different people, but regardless of our career goals, the way we go about achieving our “next level” is the same. Today’s blog post paves the way.

Hard truth:

In most manager’s minds, the majority of employees are hoping and praying for a promotion vs. doing anything about it.

This week we discuss why it is so important to articulate our career goals. Next week, we discuss the specific steps you can take to pro-actively move your career in a forward direction regardless of your direction (or lack of).

One of the questions that all senior executives ask of candidates and employee is “What do you want to do with your career?” or some variation of “What is your five year plan?” This is a common networking question and a guaranteed interview question so we should always have a prepared answer. A candidate that is not able to answer this question makes it tough on the hiring manager to extend an offer because managers don’t want to hire anyone that A.) Doesn’t have any ambition or B.) Hasn’t thought about what they want to do with their life. An employee who isn’t able to answer this question is very difficult to promote because the manager doesn’t know what position to promote the employee into. The LAST thing your manager wants to do is assume an incorrect path with your career goals. (You would be surprised how many employees do not want to be a manager, so don’t assume this is the norm).  

Requisite dating life example:

When we go on a first date with Ms. Right and ask her: “What do you want to do this evening?” the last thing we want to hear is “I don’t know, what every you want to do is cool.”  As flexible as Ms. Right sounds, this response makes it very difficult to set up an evening for success. Now, if Ms. Right responds with:

  • “I think it would be great if the two of us could check out the new restaurant X”
  • “I’d love to see the new Y movie with you”
  • “I want to take a drive and see the tulip festival. The drive will give us time to get to know each other”

The date becomes much easier to set up for success. Even if you do not like food X or movie Y, for Ms. Right, we suck it up. For Ms. Right, we would probably go see Fried Green Tomatoes, 50 Shades of Grey, and yes walk through muddy fields of tulips. The point is that relationships take work from both sides, Mr. Right (your manager) is not a mind reader and “I don’t know, What ever you want to do” is very difficult to work with. Could Mr. Right (your manager) make a suggestion and plan the evening? Absolutely, but at the end of the day, we are individually responsible for our dates and our careers. We need to be pro active and set ourselves up for success. The date and your career is about your happiness and we need to take some initiative.

Back to the executive asking about our 5- year plan. In this competitive market, just having a career goal isn’t enough. If we really want the executive to take us seriously, we need to provide a few more details. 1.) Why this goal means something to us and 2.) What we have been doing to attain this goal. Anyone can have a career goal but few actually make moves. Managers notice two things, initiative and complacency.  

If I survey 20 employees with the question: “What are your career goals?”

  • 15 will say “I am still trying to figure that out” or worse, “I don’t know”.
  • 4 will say, “I want to be a manager” (very generic and without context this answer is meaningless)
  • 1 will have a specific goal

The response “I am still trying to figure it out” is the equivalent of Ms. Right’s response, “I don’t know”. This lack of direction makes it very hard to provide guidance or help towards the next level.

“I want to be a manager” is as generic response as they come and the number 1 answer I hear when it comes to carer goals.  This can be a legitimate answer, but because everyone wants to be a manager and most are doing nothing to about it, your response loses meaning and puts us into the same category as all of the other chaff in the department. This can be a great answer if we provide the”WHY” we want to be a manager and “WHAT” we have done to move us closer to the goal. Without this context, this answer sounds like everyone else in the department and we need to differentiate ourselves. 

If I am lucky, our Go-Getter will explain what they want to do, what steps they need to take to hit the goal, AND what steps they have already taken towards the path of enlightenment.

And here is where the blog post begins.

The first step when it comes to career goals is to figure out WHAT we want to do. Without that answer, it becomes very difficult to make introductions to the specific people that can help and very difficult to give an employee related projects which can prove we are ready for the “next level”.

Let’s say you are a bank teller and you want to be a manager of the bank tellers at the local branch or the Director of bank tellers for the local area.

When I ask, “Why do you want to be a manager of X department?” what I usually hear is: “I have been in the department the longest, I know about all of our work flows and have great relationships with our customers”.

We have two things going against ourselves at this point. We had to prodded for the reasons we want to be a manager AND none of the above are good enough reasons for promotion. Everyone in the department can say they understand the process and have great relationships with the customer.

Once we figure out our destination, we need to go an extra step

In addition to explaining what we want to do, we need to explain WHY we want to get to that next level and HOW we are planning on getting there.

A wet dream of an answer and what I hear from 1 out of 100:

“I want to be a manager in customer service for two reasons. I am really passionate about our customers being treated right, and I have seen how I managers can effect results at scale vs. what I am doing at a one-on-one level here at Acme Publishing. I have talked with a couple of Directors in similar positions and admire what they do. I am currently in the customer service department and am trying to show leadership by:åe department to improve efficiency

  • Putting up great call center stats
  • Putting together specific workflows for the entire department to improve efficiency
  • Created an FAQ which answer the top 10 questions that come in so new employees can have a guideline for the most common questions.
  • Mentoring new hires

Do you have any advice for me? Am I missing anything? Could I set myself up more efficiently?

Now we are cooking with gas. I can work with this at all kinds of levels:

The above answer gives me confidence that the manager title is what our Go-Getter is looking for. This is not a flight of fancy or the career goal of the month.

I know that this hopeful is taking the initiative and I personally WANT to help someone that helps himself or herself vs. someone that wants me to do the work for them. 

This hopeful has proven they are walking the walk and not just talking the talk. There are two things all managers here from their employees: “I want to be a manager” and “I can do that job”. Trust me, this is not enough.

Next week, we continue the discussion and explain the specific steps you can take to pro actively move your career in a forward direction. Even if we don’t know what we want to do, there are specific steps we will discuss that can set you up for success. 

Like a Boss!

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

If you felt this post was valuable, subscribe to weekly updates here, (I promise, no spam) “like” us on Facebook, and leave your comments below. Thank you!

Reasonable accommodation in the workplace

Posted: by HRNasty in Manage your Manager, What HR Really Thinks


HRNasty’s actual set up and a reasonable accommodation, albiet a bit ghetto

Reasonable Accommodation

Last week the topic of reasonable accommodation came up via HR expert, colleague, and career advocate @bgwalton7  who DM’ed the following:

Pic 1

@bgwalton is a thought leader and definitely someone you should follow if you are trending on leadership, career trajectory or HR and I immediately realized the topic of reasonable accommodations would make a great blog topic. When she talks, I listen.

Over Twitter I asked a few clarifying questions because I wasn’t sure about the specific requests that staff might make. To which she clarified:

reasonable accommodation

reasonable accommodation clarification

I had focused the most recent blogs on relatively larger topics like career progression and promotions. It is these personal requests that are the hardest to make. The requests for the private office, lighting, ergonomic and reasonable accommodations like a VariDesk can be so visible that we feel guilty about these requests. Asking for a raise in salary is a private affair and the outcome confidential so no one knows a request is being made. If a new ergonomic “anything” shows up at your desk, co-workers will notice, and the public barrage of questions will follow. Although we shouldn’t feel guilty, it is easy to feel like we received something others are not.

So, with a lot of input from @bgwalton7, I am going to address a couple of points:

  • How do managers really feel when employees ask for these accommodations?
  • The request for an accommodation when you have a doctor’s note or disability
  • The request for an accommodation when we do not have a doctor’s note.

Thing 1: How do managers feel? How you ask is more important than what you ask for.

Ask with confidence and keep your excuses to a minimum. If you need something, you need it. It is OK to ask, my advice is to ask in a way that is productive vs. not whiney or filled with excuses. EG: If your significant other needs 300.00 to get the brakes fixed on the car, it is much better to hear “Can I take $300.00 from the checking account for my car? I need to get my brakes fixed”. Makes total sense, and the ask is straight forward. The ugly flip-side is: “Hey, remember how I helped you out last week when we needed to visit your mom and help her move her TV? You know my car is 5 years old and the brakes aren’t safe, we have the kid in the back seat all the time and with the brakes squeaking. Blah blah blah.” How do managers really feel? “SHUT UP ALREADY and JUST GET ON WITH THE QUESTION. YOU LOST ME AT Hey Remember”. We don’t have to ask with attitude like we are owed anything. We just don’t need excuses. Your request is just another business request and your comfort is a business investment in productivity.

Reasonable accommodation requests should not be denied or even questioned. Reasonable will depend on the company you are working, profitability and culture, but reasonable will also depend on how you ask. If you ask in such a way that it your request sounds like a big deal, favor or an exception, it will become perceived as such. If we ask in a matter of fact way, with a straight face, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. If we ask for anything large or small with a bunch of excuses, we are putting the manager in the wrong frame of mind before an answer has been considered.

I know what I am talking about because I am an ergonomic nightmare. I am short, have bad shoulders from flyfishing, bad eyes from tying small flies for flyfishing, and a messed up back from living a sedentary life of Cheetos and Snickers. This is why I am blogging and not working a YouTube channel. I have a face and body for radio because I am a visual and crooked mess.

Whenever I come into a new office, I make a number of requests / adjustments and they have all been reasonable accommodations. Most desks heights are between 28 – 30 inches and designed for folks in the 5 foot 9 to 6 foot range. I come in a just under 5 foot 9 inches short, and so the adjustments start from here.

Our neck works best when my eyes are looking down at the top of the screen. With a large monitor and my laptop screen, I need two different height platforms for the monitors.

My wrist needs to be level with the keyboard and my forearms need to be level to the ground which means I am using a height and angle adjustable keyboard tray that extends away from the desk. In addition to this, I work best with an ergonomic keyboard which does not have the 9-key. This keeps my elbows from reaching out for the mouse.

My thighs need to be level with the floor or I have undue pressure on my back and even with the chair at it’s lowest setting, I need a foot rest. You have heard of alligator arms, I have alligator legs.

I remove the arms from my chairs because even the height adjustable arms lift my elbows up and lift my shoulders towards my ears. I always have the “I don’t know shrug” going on and it doesn’t do for executive credibility. A set of Allen wrenches and a Phillips screwdriver will remedy the armrests which can always be screwed back on.

High maintenance? Yes, but spend 9-10 hours a day at the desk and then go home and work for another couple of hours and your body will let you know you are doing some damage. If we lay in bed for 2 minutes a bit uncomfortable we make an adjustment. Just Google “standard desk height” and you will see what I am talking about. I don’t know this guy but my quick Google search verified the above here.

Lets start with the easy stuff. If you need more lighting, you ask for it. A $30.00 to $50.00 dollar lamp is a no brainer. Most lamps will be on the low end of this price range and this makes it unreasonable to deny this sort of request.

If you want mood lighting, or something in fashion setting chrome, you are on your own, but if you get push back for additional desk lighting because it is legitimately dark for you, you are working in the wrong place or for the wrong manager. Get out.

@bgwalton asked about requests for VariDesks and I know these are very popular. I personally haven’t used them, but the last company I worked with bought so many of these, I suggested we buy them in bulk and try and get a discount. As I remember, these ran between $400.00 – $700.00 depending on the model.

If you have a note from the doctor explaining you would work more effectively with an reasonable accommodation, then we just moved into ADA (Americans with Disabilities) territory. Employees with a note from the doctor or that have a disability have rights, and there are laws in place that will protect the employee and ensures the employer makes a reasonable accommodation. @bgwalton7 provided me a simple to read link on the guidelines of the ADA here and it will go into more detail here. At a very high level:

  • Company needs to have more than 15 employees
  • The term “reasonable accommodation” will be determined by the company. “Reasonable” at Google will be very different than “reasonable” at a non-profit which may not have the same resources as a larger company.
  • A doctor’s note isn’t required. The verbal mention of a medical condition can be enough to become a request for a “reasonable” accommodation.

If you are a person in leadership, HR, management or a lead, I HIGHLY recommend you take a few minutes and review these guidelines. You probably have employees that are asking you for an accommodation which would fall under ADA guidelines which are not recognized as such. The laws are pretty loose in favor of the employee (as they should be) and some requests may not even be recognizable. See page 7 – 13 here. Seriously, even if you don’t read the rest of this post, read this document.

My advice is that if you need an accommodation, just ask. Ergonomics and their importance are a much more accepted talking point vs. 20 years ago. Companies understand that a 400.00 ergonomic work-station is much cheaper than having an employee out of the office for physical therapy, carpel tunnel or pinched nerve. If it is determined you need physical therapy because of bad ergonomics, the company suffers at multiple levels:

  • The company’s insurance usage went up which can effect rates
  • Employee is out of the office at therapy with lost productivity
  • When the employee is in the office, they are not working as effectively as when they are healthy
  • When the employee does come come back to the office, the doctor is requesting the accommodation to be made and the above could have been avoided.

These requests come up on the managers and HR’s radar not because of the request for an accommodation but because of the way the request are made. A whiny request with no confidence is frustrating. It is an indication the customers and vendors are treated the same way. A confident request isn’t given as much thought and here is why: If you are making $40K a year, we have another 20% for benefits, a computer and screen, desk and chair. This can easily be a $55K expense. 400.00 amortized /depreciated over 12 – 24 months comes out isn’t that much.

Managers are worried that if we get some special accouterment for one employee, all employees will ask for it. If accommodations are made based on medical situations, we shouldn’t have a blitz of employees.

Like a Boss!

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

Career Path

Are you pushing a stalled career?

Career path acceleration

Career path and the manager 1 on 1’s was last weeks blog topic. These updates are important because without them, your manager doesn’t have an inventory of your current skills and accomplishments to sell on your behalf when new opportunities become available. If they don’t know what you are doing, they are not able to sell you into that new opportunity and your career path will stall. That post can be found here and it explains why your manager shouldn’t know and doesn’t know about your skill set. This week, I lay out a format you can use to deliver effective updates during your manager 1 on 1 so your career path can progress. For some of us, the manager 1 on 1 can be a new thing. For those that are having a regular meetings, I believe that most of us are not leveraging the meeting in a way that will benefit our long-term careers.

Before we talk about what we should be explaining to our manager, let me first say that your VP is probably having a weekly 1-on-1 with the CEO.

I don’t know any CEO’s that do not meet with their direct reports on a regular basis. I don’t know many executives that would accept a role if they were not able to have regular communication with their CEO. If these meetings are happening at this level, they should happen at your level. How do you think the VP was promoted to where they are?   

The manager 1-on-1

Set up a regular meeting with your manager. It can be weekly, every other week, or monthly but get something on the calendar and stay consistent. A simple email to your manager should suffice.


I’d like to set up a bi-weekly manager 1 on 1 with you so I can make sure I am delivering what you are looking for and keep you updated on my progress. The meeting would be about 30 minutes and my goal is to come to you each week with an agenda that contains

  • What I am working on
  • What I will be working on
  • What I can improve on.

I am not sure if there is anything else you would like to discuss, but just want to make sure I am meeting my objectives and taking the advantage of learning from you.



The last few 7 words may be a bit much depending on your situation, but you get the idea. Send the email and don’t miss this meeting! Just the fact that you are keeping consistent with your meetings will give your manager confidence. Keeping a consistent tempo with your communication will be considered prior success when it comes to providing updates and give confidence that when you are assigned a risky, involved, long, or high-profile project. Regular updates usually translate to “no last minute surprises” for your manager and this is a good thing.

Because all managers really want is consistent and predictable performance. The last thing they want is a last-minute surprise.

Within each meeting give the following and keep the format consistent and predictable.  

  • What you are going to work on during the next rotation / cycle
  • What you accomplished during the last rotation / cycle (should be what you predicted you were going to accomplish during the last meeting)
  • What you learned or would do differently on the project. “This was a great project for me because I got to learn ABC”. “If I were to do it again, I would try “x” instead of “y”.

Trust me, your manager will be wondering what Martian stole you and replaced you with #SuperFlyEmployee. You can tell them you have been reading the Economist Career Advice Executive Eduction blog and HRNasty. Over time you will give your manager confidence that you are self-directed and your career path will take a new direction.

The point is that you are setting goals, you are tracking against those goals and you want to improve performance. If you do this consistently, your manager WILL start assigning you work.

Your manager may have feedback on what you should be working on and other ideas you can try, and this should be expected. They are wiser and smarter. 🙂 

Why does this work?

Let’s say you put together a new on-boarding program for new hires or new customers. Your manager hears about it because a new hire / customer just commented on how effective it was. Your manager says to you: “I heard you put together a really successful on-boarding program. Newbie Nancy was talking about how much it helped her.”  

15 years ago, as the Quiet Performer, I would have responded to the above, but ONLY if asked:

  • “Yes, I had some help on that. Glad you heard good things about it.”

15 years ago I would not have imagined going to my manager and explaining what I did on my own initiative. 

15 years later, the methodical and purposeful HR professional would set up a series of meeting and “explain” the following before the I even started to work on the project. My career path has not been the same since.  

Beginning of Rotation 1:

  • I am going to put together an on-boarding session for our new hires. Here are the steps I am going to take.
    • On-boarding is an important new hire experience because the first two weeks will reinforce the decision made to join Acme Publishing. If they don’t like the first two weeks of their new job, it will be hard for Acme Publishing to dig out of that negative perception.
    • I am going to talk with some recent new hires and find out what they think would be valuable in an on-boarding session, and see how we can improve the process.
    • I am going to involve some senior folks from the various departments. I will put together a rough draft of their presentation and ask them to make edits. I will ask them to recommend someone to deliver their respective portion and sell it as a learning opportunity for public speaking so the speaker has “prior success”.
    • Once I have a draft of the on-boarding session, I am going to deliver it to a few of the current employees and ask for feedback.
    • Do you have any advice for me? Is there anything I am missing or you want to see in the program?

This gets the manager on the same page. If there are higher priorities, this is their opportunity to get me working on what is important to them. If my methodology is not what they want to see, they can make corrections. Either way, I just got buy-in. 

Beginning of Rotation 2:

  • Here is what I worked on during the last rotation:
    • I met with recent hires and received feedback on the new hire process. Here is my data: x, y and z.
    • I showed the Sr. leaders of the various departments my drafts and received final versions from 3 of the 4 VP’s. Unfortunately, the last VP is on vacation.
    • I have names of the 4 presenters from the 4 different departments that will actually present.
    • As a test, I delivered the session to 5 current employees and have made adjustments based on their feedback.
  • What I am going to work on next rotation:
    • I am going to talk with recruiting and find out when the next batch of new hires is coming in and set a day to deliver this training
    • I will have a short survey at the end of the session to collect feedback from the new hires to make sure the time was valuable.
    • I am going to make any necessary changes based on feedback.
  • What I learned, what I would do differently
    • I learned that new hires are hesitant to provide negative feedback in a group setting so next time I will approach them individually and reinforce that their feedback is so we can improve the process.
    • I should have checked the schedules of the VP’s. I didn’t know that one of them was going to be on vacation. I didn’t have all the presentations I wanted in this first session.
    • The current employees had a lot of culture points they wanted to add and that isn’t something I had considered so I will be adding them in.

The above explains our accomplishments and our learnings without coming off as the douchebag braggadocio. See the difference in how the Quiet Performer and the HR professional set themselves up? Neither one of them came off as a braggart but if I was the manager of these two employees and had a career opportunity or project, guess who I am going to go talk to. It isn’t that I am hating on the quiet performer. Without me the manager realizing it, the HR professional just made it a lot easier for me to approach them and my career path looks very different. I know they will check in, I know they will ask for ideas, I know there won’t be any surprises.  Even if the Quiet Performer put together a better on-boarding presentation, guess who is going to receive the next big opportunity?

Like a Boss!

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

If this post resonated with you, support the blog and subscribe to weekly updates here, (I promise, no spam)  “like” us on Facebook, and leave your comments below. Thank you!

job promotion

Keep your manager updated with consistent and predictable performance for the job promotion

Passed over for job promotion

HRNasty, I know I am a quiet person. I am also smart and I have ideas, but I don’t seem to be getting the opportunities like my loud peers who brag about what they do. Do I have to be a schmoozing douche to get ahead in the corporate world? My colleagues aren’t that smart but they keep getting all the job promotions.  Sincerely, Quiet Performer

A good friend emailed me the above question and a great conversation over coffee followed. The topic of job promotion and opportunity is a topic that is asked of me on a fairly regular basis in one form or another and I thought it would be helpful to share here. Generally speaking the person asking the question falls into one or more of the following categories:

  • Manager that wants a job promotion
  • Has parents that are not from America
  • Female
  • The quiet, shy and introverted from any nationality and of any gender

The above is over generalizing and racist. At the risk of turning the reader off, I REALLY want to drive the above point home. My parents are not from America and outside of work, I am quiet, shy and introverted. I was raised with the value that I should not let anyone know that my personal situation is better or worse than theirs. Bragging about my accomplishments or calling attention to my worries is not in my bag of tricks. The common element that I could have pointed out without being a racist would have been simply:

Like it or not, if you don’t speak up, talk about your accomplishments, or market yourself, you will be passed over for any job promotion

Exponentially, the above bulleted groups will speak up on their behalf much less often than their majority counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, a very good male Caucasian friend who has a CPA and an MBA is one of the best smartest Controllers I know. Prior to meeting me, he never asked for a raise. He literally said if he wasn’t getting paid what he thought he was worth, he quit. The point is that he assumed that good, solid work would get him recognized. Yes, HRNasty had a bit of a rant. I also know a woman who is the General Counsel for a company that knows how to make her accomplishments and opinions heard and she doesn’t come across as a bitch.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

So the next couple of posts are all about how to keep your manager updated on your accomplishments without sounding like a douche or a braggart. With this post I explain why it is so important that we are pro-active when it comes to updating our manager regarding accomplishments. In corporate America few things will bring you more opportunity than the below:

  • Whining like a squeaky wheel
  • Prior success
  • Letting your manager know you want more opportunity or more money

Our Quiet Performer doesn’t want to take the squeaky wheel route because it has the after taste of douche bag mixed with the aroma of ass. Prior success? WTF HRNasty? This brings us to the original “chicken or egg” question. “How do I gain prior success if I don’t get the opportunity to be successful?” Culturally, our quiet performer isn’t going to come out and ask his manager for more money or new opportunities. He knows he should and will work on the skill of self promotion, but that doesn’t help him in the here and now. What’s a quiet performer to do if they want a job promotion?

Simple. Update your manager on a regular basis. Let your manager know what you are working on, what you accomplished, what you learned and what you want to learn more about. Make your updates routine and consistent and accomplishments become updates and not-self centered bragging sessions. They are not once a year announcements within the self-evaluation prior to the yearly review. Remain top of mind with your manager and when opportunity comes up, your name will be in the hat.

I talk with a lot of employees and it surprises me that so many of us are under the impression that giving an update to their manager is bragging, or that the manager should know what they are doing. Trust me, if you fall into the Quiet Performer category, you are physically not able to brag. What ever you say and however you say it won’t sound like braggadocio in your wildest dreams. Your manager has heard worse and what you do could not be considered bragging. When you speak, it is probably just a whisper compared to your douche bag counterpart. Instead of looking at the accomplishments and lessons learned as braggadocio, look at these updates as a service you provide your manager. These updates:

  • Reinforce that you care about your job and your responsibilities.
  • Can be the perfect opportunity to explain what you have learned and how you will approach challenging problems differently in the future.
  • Are a way you can keep your manager updated on the functions / projects you are responsible for.

All of the above are updates your manager WANTS to hear about. Think about updates as a way of building your resume for your next job promotion or opportunity. 

When we applied and interviewed for our current position, we came prepared with a resume and it was EXPECTED that we talk about our accomplishments. There is a difference between landing a job via the interview process and getting a job promotion.

As a candidate in the interview, the hiring manager asked us questions and we shared our prior accomplishments. The candidate that is best able to present their prior accomplishments as a fit for the job requirements is usually the one that gets the job. (We obviously worry about dress, manners, etc., but you get the idea.)

As a candidate for a job promotion, the hiring manager is NOT always asking or prompting us for our prior accomplishments. Often times, we don’t even learn about a potential job promotion until we hear the announcement that the position has already been filled. Your manager announces that “Johnny is the new Director of Customer Service” and we are left wondering WTF happened? We didn’t know there was an opening and we are more qualified than the guy that is moving to the bigger office? Life isn’t fair! It is assumed that our managers know what we accomplished and will pick the most qualified candidate. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way. You may be thinking that it should be obvious to your manager that you care and want to learn, but frankly, they have plenty of other things to worry about including the Squeaky Wheel, the guy with prior success and the one that is straight up asking for the new opportunity. Did I mention they have their own career to worry about?

If your manager is in the market to hire a position which is a potential promotion for you, they will look to couple of sources in roughly the following order: 

  1. Their own team: Based on what they know about individual performance if they have someone who is qualified, that individual will be promoted. 
  2. Managers at the same level who are managing teams working in similar roles: Other managers will make a recommendation based on what they know about the qualifications and performance within their teams.
  3. Request employee files from HR. If there is no evidence of accomplishments in the file, then we can’t blame the manager for not picking us.  

This is why we need to remind the manager of what we have accomplished and learned on a regular basis. We want to make it easy for the hiring manager to keep a written record of what we have accomplished. We want to make it easy for us to be kept top of mind in case our manager is asked for a potential candidate. 

Requisite dating example

Let’s say you are a single in the year 2016, attractive and fun. Like most of your peers you are on the various dating sites, your pipeline is full and you are hanging out with a number eligible shorties. Of course you are not committed to any individual in particular, assume they are dating others and attracted to all. You love the outdoors and love to go fly fishing.

You happen to be hanging out with 3 different potentials. In no particular order:

  1. Always tells you how much fun she is having with you and how much she appreciates learning about fly fishing. Always texts and lets you know that she is looking forward to the next shared adventure. Shares with you that she is taking a cooking class and wants to bring meals for the next trip.
  2. Is a city girl who is always saying she wants to learn how to fly fish but doesn’t take any steps to learn. Isn’t watching YouTube videos and hasn’t heard of Brad Pitt in a River Runs Through it. She is always complaining that you don’t take her fishing and are spend more time with the fellah’s than her.
  3. Is a great girl, but she rarely has an opinion. We are confident she is having a great time, otherwise she would find someone else. If you ask her what she wants to do, she says “What every you want to do”. She is a great date. Polite, says thank you, always well dressed and presentable, will never embarrass you but is just not very outgoing. She is easy to hang out with and never raises a fuss.

Guess who is going fishing? Yeah, bachelorette number 1. She provides feedback, is appreciative of the learning, and bringing something to the table to add to the experience. Are you feeling me? Your manager is not a mind reader and we need to keep them informed. 

Next week, I lay out a couple of examples of what the conversation sounds like and the level of detail we should bring to the table so we can keep top of mind and keep our name in the hat of opportunity.

Like a Boss!

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

If you felt this post was valuable, subscribe to weekly updates here, (I promise, no spam)  “like” us on Facebook, and leave your comments below. Thank you!


Gender equality

Does your body language say “confidence”?

Gender equality and diversity at the leadership level

A recent blog, posted on the Economist’s Executive Education Navigator / Economist’s Executive Education Blog, addressed the topic of gender equality in the workplace which I found fascinating. The article made some great points which I felt compelled to write about based on past experience on this particular topic. 

For the record, I am male and a minority and as much as I would like to see more women in executive positions, I would also like to see more minorities in these leadership positions. I liked this article a lot because it addresses a number of beliefs that I share when it comes to increasing not just women in leadership but diversity at the senior leadership level. Frankly it addresses a number of action items that EVERYONE should be aware of if they want to make it to the C Suite.

Not long ago, I heard the head of Diversity for a Fortune 500 speak about gender equality and diversity within her company. The company she works for makes a big effort to bring diversity into the work place. EG: It is a requirement that a minority is interviewed for all leadership positions. This helps minorities get into the door which, in turn should increase the chances of minorities being promoted into leadership positions. The bigger percentage of minorities / women in the pool, the greater the chance of promoting these groups. Diversity at the leadership level is still a problem for her company and she used what I think is a great analogy for most well-intentioned companies:

“Minorities are being invited to the dance, but they are not on the dance floor.”

Her point is that diverse candidates are invited to work at the company, but they are not in leadership positions. My question for both leadership and employees from diverse backgrounds:

Do the diverse employees that are hired know how to dance?

If you don’t know how to dance, you are probably not going to be on the dance floor. Just attending the event doesn’t mean you are going to be participating.  

I think it is easy to blame unfair treatment on “the system”. To be frank, at the end of the day it is our individual career and we need to take responsibility for it. “Blaming the system” won’t do us any good. Learning how to dance will put us in a much better position to be on the dance floor. Learning how to be successful in leadership positions will put us in a much better position to be selected for these positions.  

Working in HR and in leadership positions for the past 20 years, I have seen minorities, women and the majority promoted into leadership positions. I have seen employees with disabilities, living alternative lifestyles and individuals over 60 promoted to leadership positions. In each case, these folks knew “how to dance”. They fell into a couple of categories:

  • Taught themselves how to dance (communicate and work at the executive level).
  • Were raised in homes or had exposure to executives growing up. They came to the work place already comfortable with executives.
  • Were mentored and coached to play ball at the next level.

The common denominator for all of these folks was that they did not bring up their differences when talking publicly. They did not call attention to their color, lifestyle, gender, etc. They acted as if they were comfortable in their skin and they accepted who they were. They did not bring excuses to the table.

The article on the Economist’s Executive Education Navigator / Economist’s Executive Education Blog talks about leadership programs and what they provide to help women become promoted. A few excerpts from that post.

“We call out and identify the things that women do that put them at a disadvantage, like not taking risks and not showing confidence”

 “Coach on how to communicate and pitch ideas in a compelling way”

Regardless of your gender or ethnicity, the above statements say a lot. The leadership programs do not step on egg shells when it comes to the sensitive subjects. I believe in this approach. (Self admittedly, I am a hard-ass and not for everyone. Hence, no name and no picture of me on this blog.)

I coach a number of women in HR. In all cases, these women are smart, qualified and educated. Two in particular, have their MBA’s and their SPHR (Senior Professional Human Resource) certification which requires 7 years of management experience in HR. One is a minority. When I first met these individuals, they both had the title of HR Manager. Unfortunately, they also had low salaries. It wasn’t because they are women that they were making lower salaries. They were not making much money and held lesser titles because they were not acting and presenting themselves as the executives they could be. They were qualified on paper, but they were not communicating in the same confident manner as other execs (regardless of gender). They didn’t show confidence and they were not taking risks. If you were to look at their resumes, on paper it would appear they were under paid, but for their skill set and their productivity, they were receiving a fair wage. Let the chauvinist say that one more time.

They were not communicating in the same confident manner as other execs (regardless of gender). They didn’t show confidence and they were not taking risks. If you were to look at their resumes, it would appear they were under paid, but for their skill set and their productivity, they were receiving a fair wage.

I am proud to say that a number of these women are now holding VP titles. I am also proud to say that I just received a thank you card from one explaining that their annual bonus was more than their entire salary when we first met. In both cases, these women changed the way they presented themselves. We looked at the genetic make up of their executive teams and had them look at themselves. Typically, exec teams were made up of Ivy League educated, type A, white males. When they spoke these execs don’t apologize or sound meek when presenting ideas or backing up ideas. There is very little emotion in these business pitches. When these female HR professionals looked at themselves, they realized they were communicating in a manner that was completely opposite to the rest of the team. A few of the more noticeable changes over time were made including but not limited to:

  • Not apologizing for their decisions. When they made a recommendation or had an idea, they did not apologize for it. They stated it with conviction and confidence.   
  • They practiced their pitches before making them so they sounded confident and sure (even if they were not).
  • They worked on their body language when presenting to a room.
  • The business pitches focused more on the numbers and the bottom-line vs. the emotions of the employees.
  • Recognized that their executive colleagues can blow up, raise their voices, swear or even yell. Despite these hysterics, the world is not going to end. There isn’t any reason to take what happens at an exec meeting personally.
  • They realized they could quit any job and find another. They didn’t owe any company or CEO anything.
  • Negotiate for themselves and not rely on their manager. If you don’t ask, you don’t git.

Here is the question I posed in the first few paragraphs is:

Do the diverse employees that are hired know how to dance?

The article states that “informal mentoring is most effective, because the pairing methodology of formal mentoring programs often fails to create good partnerships. I completely agree and blogged about my personal philosophy on mentoring programs here. The partnerships with the above mentioned HR VP’s happened informally vs. via a structured program that tries to perfectly pair 10 mentors and 10 mentees.

Regardless of how it happens, all employees need to learn “how to dance”. I don’t believe that corporate America or the Universities are teaching this.    

Gender equality in the workplace is an important topic. As much as I appreciate the intent of diversity programs, I don’t want to land a job because I am a minority. (I really am a minority.)  I don’t want my co-workers and colleagues looking at me in my cushy office thinking I got the position because of my (good) looks.

I want to earn the spot because I am:

  • Secure in myself and my physical appearance.
  • Articulate and a recognized thought leader in my discipline.
  • Possess the ability to negotiate a fair salary in the same way I would negotiate a better rate with any vendor I work with.

I am confident there are work environments where women are NOT treated fairly. I am not discrediting that fact.  I am proud of the women I have worked with and coached. They put in a ton of hard work, and they had the professional courage to take chances and try different behaviors so that their colleagues would listen. In some cases, they realized that the work environment wasn’t conducive to their style of HR and moved on. I am confident that if you were to ask them now, they would say they would want to earn the position and the salary on equal grounds vs being given special treatment.

Check out the Economist’s Executive Education Navigator / Economist’s Executive Education Blog. . There is a lot of great thought-provoking material here and even if you are not a woman, this article brings up good food-for-thought if you want to make it to the C Suite.


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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Facilitative Leadership

Do you have what it takes to present ideas and drive engagement from this team?

Facilitative Leadership

Facilitative Leadership is a career game changer and a class I believe every company should make available. If you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend you take a Facilitative Leadership Class. Jump on it. Don’t look back, don’t look around, don’t ask questions. Just sign up. If there is one class you can help you take your career to the next level, it is Facilitative Leadership. I have wanted to blog about this topic for a very long time and the real life example below inspired me to take notes.

Real Life Example:

As a member of the executive leadership team, I attend a weekly meeting where the head of each department and the CEO of the company update each other on what is happening in our respective departments.  The meeting lasts an hour and we also strategize about current initiatives.

Like most meetings, our meetings are no different and we:

  • Start a few minutes late
  • We get off track and stay off track
  • We don’t always have time for everyone to provide their update
  • We end late

Thankfully, we do not have the problems that many meetings do have:

  • One person dominates the meeting
  • One person is not engaged at all
  • Participants are distracted on their email
  • At this level, everyone knows how to present their ideas

We recently hired an executive assistant and one her duties is to attend this meeting and take notes. She is also responsible in part, to facilitate the meeting. Our current hire is fresh out of college and although very smart, inexperienced when it comes to the corporate world, let alone taming a table of Type A execs. After seeing her struggle a bit, I sat down with her one morning in front of a white board and went through some basic principles and practices of Facilitative Leadership. I am currently on vacation and she just called, excited to let me know that she was able to control the meeting, kept topics on track, ended on time and everyone was able to say what they wanted to say.  

I have always known the power of Facilitative Leadership, but the fact that a recent graduate with less than 4 months of work experience could control a group of execs made me realize more folks need to take this class. Management training may get you to the next level, but demonstrate Facilitative Leadership and you WILL be on the short list for those coveted manager positions. Below I share my story, a few common principles of Facilitative Leadership and the reasons they work.

10 years ago, as a trainer with a Fortune 300, I facilitated this 2.5 day class 4 times a year. The result of being involved with that class was two-fold:

Fold 1: I felt really appreciated by co-workers when I walked through the halls of the company. No class had as much impact on individual careers or department cohesiveness when attended individually or as a group. The managers and execs that had attended this class were able to take their careers to the next level because they knew how to inspire engage,present new topics and gain buy-in with folks they were working with. With simple changes in approach, peers will see you as a next level professional in the corporate environment. Because I had the fortune of facilitating the class, these colleagues were grateful to me because they felt that it was me who had changed their careers when in actuality it was the class they had attended.

Fold 2: To become a trainer and to facilitate classes, I had to first become certified to facilitate the specific class, Facilitative Leadership. Because I was facilitating this class on a regular basis, I had the opportunity to see many different ways of facilitating meetings, driving engagement, and presenting to groups. Some methods were better than others, but as much as I learned HOW to do it, I also saw what NOT to do. This is very similar to the hiring process. Although I have seen 100’s if not 1000’s of candidates hired, I saw 10X the number declined and know specifically why they were declined. This perspective combined with the “science” of Facilitative Leadership conduct meeting and presentations (including debrief’s of the interviews) in a very efficient and effective manner.

What is Facilitative Leadership?

There are many flavors of Facilitative Leadership. At a very high level, Facilitative Leadership is a model asserting that leaders should effectively facilitate deep collaboration. This model teaches how to lead in a way that inspires, invites participation and build commitment. This is not a methodology that should be used 100% of the time. There are times where we want to TELL people what to do and even flex the pounded fist. This is a tool that can be very effective to drive engagement, present ideas, and drive to consensus.

One mantra of Facilitative Leadership is “The knowledge is in the room”. What this implies is that when the audience is engaged, the audience can drive the talking points home. If the facilitator is doing 95% of the talking then this is a one way conversation. If we can drive our talking time down to 60% or 70%, then the audience is participating and much more engaged. As a facilitator, I love it when the audience is giving the examples and explaining the topics to the class vs. me.     

We have all been in meetings where:

  • There were audience members are in the corner talking too loudly and causing a distraction
  • Folks are on their laptops doing email
  • Presenter talks 100% of the time (this is a lecture, like what our parents did when we were in trouble)

In each of the above, there is little or no audience engagement. These are frustrating meetings and when there is no engagement or there are distractions, it is easy to lose interest. Facilitative Leadership keeps the audience interested.

A quick example of Facilitative Leadership that you ARE aware of:

  • We have all seen the use of an agenda in meetings. We have a specified time to meet and we need to cover 4 or 5 topics. The agenda breaks down the time so we know when to end on a topic and when to start the next one. Used correctly, the agenda can drive decision-making. This is great in theory but ONLY works if the person running the meeting has the balls to cut a topic short, set expectations or possesses the facilitative skill set to drive the group to a decision. Most meetings make use of the agenda but without facilitative leadership expertise, the agenda is useless. Facilitative Leadership provides guard rails. With our exec admin I asked her to set expectations by giving the leaders a heads up: To honor everyone’s time, we were asking everyone to limit their updates to 5 minutes. This was essentially the agenda that allowed everyone to take a turn and get the group out on time.  It also gave the least experienced person in the room the permission to cut someone off.

A few examples of Facilitative Leadership that you may NOT be aware of:

  • If two people are causing a distraction by holding their own side conversation, one way to get them to slow their roll is just start walking around the room. Start presenting in close physical proximity to the distraction and the culprits will shut down.  The beauty of this is you don’t have to look at them or say anything. This is why good presenters use the entire room. Presentations are more dynamic when we use the entire room. Next time you see a performer on stage, see if they stand in one place or use the entire stage / room. Facilitative Leadership explains the nuance of using the entire room.  
  • Testing the technology: We have all been seen presentations start late because the presenters were fiddling with the projector and audio for 15 minutes putting everything behind schedule.
  • Building connections: To build personal connections before the presentation starts, introduce yourself and talk with the audience members one-on-one as they enter the room. We can use this connection during the presentation to increase participation. Facilitative Leadership gives us examples of how to maximize these introductions in a very short amount of time and then how to leverage these connections during the actual presentation to increase engagement.  If I introduce myself prior to the presentation with folks who I feel a great vibe with, I can engage with that person during the preso. “I just met John Doe this morning and he had brought up a great point XYZ”.  With this simple gesture, we just validated John Doe in front of everyone and because of this, he is more likely to answer questions out loud when I engage with the group. Build relationships with 6 – 10 folks prior to the presentation and you can build momentum with your engagement. I recently went to a dinner show where the performers came out and engaged with the audience prior to the show. One of the performers came up to our table and started talking with us. You guessed it, during the show, the spotlight shinned on me, I was pulled on stage and suddenly being serenaded to and became part of the performance. I am sure the engagement with our table prior to the show was a “test”. You can bet that myself, our table and all the tables in our immediate vicinity were “engaged”.    

Other topics covered during Facilitative Leadership classes:

  • Power Point Presentations.  How to format power point slides, what colors and fonts to use and not use. Did you know there are specific colors you should NOT use when creating Power Point presentations?
  • Driving group consensus and making a decision
  • How to drive everyone to come back from break’s on time
  • Techniques to keep the audience from falling asleep
  • How to quickly generate ideas from the audience to solve problems
  • Prioritizing generated ideas so that the group is in agreement on what to work on

The above techniques don’t just drive engagement in formal meetings. These techniques can be put to use in your every day life including impromptu meetings, brainstorm sessions and one-on-one conversations with your manager and your significant other. Your colleagues won’t realize that they are being “guided / manipulated” but with a few subtle changes in how we present ideas and articulate our thoughts, we can be seen as thought leaders.

If you ever get the chance to take this class, I highly recommend it. Even if you have to pay for it yourself, it will be money well spent and will pay for itself exponentially.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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