Friday, April 30, 2010

Guest Post: Stopping yourself when you react to others pushing your buttons

Author: Carolyn Matheson
Twitter: @capcoach

We all know what it feels like to have our buttons pushed. Something happens, that seems to take us over, every muscle in our body tightens up and we turn into somebody no one wants to be around.

Steve was in a rush to get to the store but someone else took the parking space he had his eye on. His button had been pushed. He was going to let the other driver know how mad he made him and that he couldn't get away with taking his car park space. Leaping out of the car he started waving his fists and swearing at the other driver who was taken aback in shock.
In his anger, it didn't occur to Steve that the other driver did not have a personal vendetta against him. He had just been told his department at work was about to be re-organized making him angry and fearful even before he reached the store. The final straw was the other driver and Steve allowed him to push a button which was ready to be triggered by almost anything. Steve's reaction was an immediate and emotional response, with little thought to the consequences.

As he got back in the car his stomach was tied up in knots, his heart racing, he put his head in his clammy and sweaty hands. A thought popped into his head, 'what was that all about, I am so ashamed of my behaviour'.

The more you know about what is likely to push your buttons, the more you can anticipate your reaction and be ready with simple tactics. Often something has happened just before you started to become defensive. It is easy to blame others - the boss, family, colleagues, the economy, debts; anyone but ourselves.

Warning signs that you might be susceptible to button pushing:
  • Extreme tiredness, inability to relax, difficulty in sleeping, overactive mind, feeling very disconnected from yourself and others.

  • Waking up in the morning and wanting to go straight back to sleep.

  • Worried about health, money or work.

  • Easily distracted and having difficulty concentrating. What are your warning signs?

Suggestions to stop you reacting to other people

  • Say No! Don't take on more than you can handle

  • No one pushes our buttons like our children. If you recognise that you are about to react, keep your lips firmly sealed. Step away from the situation for a while and think through your options. Go for a walk. Just a 15 minutes’ walk is enough to unfreeze your brain so you gain a different perspective.

  • Put yourself first. I have noticed that when I am calm and relaxed it is much easier to deal with anything that life throws at me.

  • Discover the power of laughter. If you get tense, the negative energy will increase. You can't laugh and be angry at the same time. It's impossible!

About the author:

Carolyn Matheson is a Master Certified Coach, and works with executives and their teams across the world. She is one of the world’s leading executive coaches whose world turned upside down 5 years ago when diagnosed with a chronic illness.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Entrepreneurial instincts

Here’s a question that I’d recently asked on Twitter.

Does HR value people with entrepreneurial instincts ? Or do we try and fit square pegs in round holes?

Surprisingly, I got consistent replies from across geographies. The answer was – No, HR doesn’t value entrepreneurial instincts. We try and fit square pegs in round holes. There are multiple answers to this question. Some may work, others might not. Some have the required flexibility, while others deal with rigidity.

As clich├ęd as it sounds, entrepreneurs are a rare breed. They come with characteristics and traits that differ a lot from most people. Traits include (but not limited to): high competency, high levels of risk taking, high self confidence and very competitive, creative bent of mind, innovative spirit, proactive behavior and need for freedom at workplace.

Given that we know certain traits of an entrepreneur it brings me to ask a couple of questions:

What can HR do to value entrepreneurial instincts?

  • To start with, it can improve the talent management system in the organization that gives flexibility to entrepreneurs to choose their career paths.
  • Map the entrepreneurial traits identified and create performance management systems that include innovation at the center of the review. Look towards the results achieved rather than the approach.
  • Encourage and train managers to accept or have for a higher tolerance for failure. Not all entrepreneurial ideas will take off.
  • Get the recruiters to hire right. If the Company doesn’t have a culture that supports entrepreneurship, then it doesn’t make sense to get someone who will eventually leave you just as quickly. It’s critical to identify what’s needed for the role.
  • Work closely with managers to indentify what percentage of their workforce needs to be entrepreneurs. Not everyone needs to be an entrepreneur.
  • Have a robust feedback system. Entrepreneurs need to be given feedback on a regular basis.
  • Bring in transparency into the performance review system. Employees need to know the parameters that define the role of an entrepreneur. However, there’s a catch to this approach. You cannot have performance review processes that make it mandatory for innovation! It’ll back-fire big time, since this approach will ask employees to take up roles that they aren’t comfortable with.
  • Promote the jobs internally within the organization and then share it with the outside world. Employees must be encouraged, based on their competencies, to take up roles that require innovation. And they’ll appreciate the role was shared with them first.
  • Money matters. Even to that entrepreneur who tells you that he wants freedom for innovation above all else. Really. Pay structures need to be flexible depending on the role that one play’s in the Company. Entrepreneurs should have a high incentive plan, that’s directly linked to their performance. Better performance means more money.

Why doesn’t HR value entrepreneurship instincts in employees?

  • The challenge is not in accepting the need for entrepreneurship within the Company. It’s the lack awareness on how to make the fit happen. The need to look for a way to fit in innovation, risks and costs involved, are a bigger challenge. There’s already a team in place and business has defined its goals and objectives. Challenging status quo in a process oriented Company might not work in the best interest of the Company.
  • Company culture plays an important role for hiring/retaining entrepreneurs. If the culture doesn’t support the system to fit in entrepreneurs, then it’s a disservice to both the candidate and the Company to come together to work.
  • HR might not have been given the authority to take the call on hiring entrepreneurs. It means that HR/recruiter will eventually fall back on the hiring manager who’ll make the decision.
  • Lack of transparency might make it really hard to determine if the Company really needs an entrepreneur. If not, not amount of talking/incentives/promises will keep them back.
  • It could also be a result of of not identifying the candidate's entrepreneurial instinct at the hiring stage.

What’s your take? Your replies will give some food-for-thought to HR readers of this blog.

An inspiring speech!

Found this video clip of Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. It's an inspiring speech and worth the 15 mins spent listening to it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dealing with career change

From a reader:

Why is it so difficult to change the sectors and profiles one is working in? I have worked in an industry for 3 years, beyond which I would like to try out something new, a different industry. But somehow one doesn't get calls for these kinds of roles or opportunity. For example, someone who has worked as a fresher in the IT industry, as a Business Analyst, does not get calls for sales in FMCG or marketing in a non IT company despite the appropriate educational background. What can one do to pursue such kind of a change?


Good question! Yes, I agree it’s difficult to change careers after spending three years in an industry, but it not impossible. Yes, your competition changes significantly when you want to carve out your career in a different field. Yet, there are ways to get calls from the desired industry. That’s not going to happen if you’re trying to squeeze in time while holding the current job. You’ll have to go the extra mile.

Here are some tips to get you into a career in the industry of your choice:

Understand the industry landscape: While there’s an intention to change your career, you may want to take that step forward with enough information at hand. There’s a ton of information available online, on blogs, networking sites, white papers, webinars, etc. Try and get yourself educated with enough info from the industry. You’ll know whether you have the required info when you are able to answer the question: What does it take to get into the new role?

Map overlapping skills: After you’ve gathered enough info to understand the required skills for the new role, map them to the skills that you possess. It will help you analyze the gaps in certain skills required for the role and work on it.

Start networking: It’s obvious, isn’t it? Your best source for info/jobs in the industry, must and will, come from people working in that field. Get on to those networking sites (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) Just a word of caution, networking is a 2-way street. You’ll have to invest time and effort in discussions and interactions. People will show interest only if you show potential and are aware of the know-how of the industry.

Be flexible: Three years work experience needn’t necessarily mean anything to a recruiter or hiring manager from a completely different industry. They’ll be ready to give you an opportunity, only if you show some flexibility. And flexibility could be around: role, work status (full time v/s contract), salary, benefits, perks, etc. Show them you’re willing to put in extra to learn the ropes. Chances of getting hired on potential are very high!

Get yourself a mentor: This could be the single most important thing for anyone looking for a career change. Invest time in locating the key people in the desired industry and identify a mentor for yourself. Go get yourself a mentor who will guide, train, prepare, provide expertise and share contacts with you, from the field. It will help you improve your learning curve. The mentor wouldn’t do your job for you, but will help you get on the right track to achieve your goals.

Informational Interviews: Well, you done your part of understanding the landscape, networked like never before, identified a mentor. What next? Ask for
informational interviews from experts in the field. If need be, go out of your way to accommodate yourself to their schedule. Remember, you want this more than them. Informational interviews are an excellent opportunity to get you aligned with the needs of the industry. They also act as an opportunity for you to showcase your potential. For all you know, the person taking the interview might actually end up hiring up! You can never rule out possibilities. No?

Shadow-work with professionals: Another area where networking will pay off big time. Try and locate experts/professionals from the desired industry and check if you can shadow-work with them. It’s a great opportunity to learn on the job. If possible, share your views with them. It helps refine your approach to the task at hand. Yes, you don’t get paid. Maybe, you don’t want to get paid, since you have a contract with the current employer.

Patience: Your career change isn’t going to happen overnight. You’ll have to spend loads of time and do the right things to get to where you want to be. Patience plays a big role in your decision. The more you have it, the better it get for you. It might even include lifestyle adjustments (including financial decisions) that need to be made.

Resume that captures your preparation: This is the crucial point in any career change. Do you have a resume that speaks of your effort that has gone into preparing and learning for the role?

Career changes are possible. Really. I’ve seen people make it happen. But there really isn’t any shortcut to reach your goal. Atleast, not one that I know of.

Good luck!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Candidate Tip - Part 6

Few months back, I started the ‘Candidate Tip Series’ on this blog with an intention to answer recruitment related questions from readers. The series was introduced in an attempt to avoid redundancy in replies. I tweet these tips on my twitter account too, and #candidatetip for the tips.

If you are a candidate, hope this helps. If not, you can help send this post to people searching for answers. I’ll continue to take questions and should you have one, you can send it to

Looking for the earlier posts on candidate tips? You can read them here.

  1. You don't need to put your photograph on the resume, unless you're asked to put it. Looks very tacky and needless to say a good recruiter/hiring manager isn’t going to hire you for the looks, unless the role demands it.

  2. It's ok to mail the recruiter/hiring manager, asking for an interview feedback. Moderation is the key. Don’t flood them with calls/mails every waking hour.

  3. It’s fine that you are the kind who laughs a lot, but please answer the question. Laughing is not an answer. Yes or No, are the only two choices.

  4. It's a phone interview. Didn't you know you shouldn’t talk when you have food in your mouth? Basic manners. Well, it’s a scheduled interview. You either eat or you talk.

  5. If you reject a job offer, then I assume you've given it enough thought before deciding. Asking to reconsider might not always work.

  6. You don’t need to put on a 'fake' accent in an interview! Why would you want to? Beats me. Talk slow. Listen well. Be precise.

  7. Telling an interviewer that you got delayed because you went shopping before an interview, doesn’t really going down well. Retail therapy before an interview? Seriously!

  8. I know music is soothing, but please switch off that radio in the b/ground. It's an interview! Not a music-fest.

  9. On Skype video-discussion, make sure you keep your pet away from the screen. Yes, I understand he’s excited too, but this is an interview!

  10. If you've given a secondary contact number, then please keep the owner of that number informed. An interview isn’t a spam call!

  11. Attending an HR interview doesn’t mean you'll get an offer! Its part of the interview process and your callous attitude could cost you the job. It’s never over, until it’s over. Remember?

  12. If you want to take the interview in a different language, then let the recruiter know your preference while scheduling the call. They either come prepared or send someone who understands the language or use an interpreter.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


From a reader:

I am a litigating lawyer and have been with my current firm for almost 4 years (I joined them straight after college). About 3 years back I got married and took a transfer to a different location. I have really learnt a lot with the current firm and have been given a lot of opportunities. But I'm really bored here now. I feel like I'm being taken for granted and am not getting the full recognition from my bosses (my immediate boss and the one above him) though my clients now specifically ask for me to handle their matters (which is a big big deal when I'm barely 4 years into the profession and get to handle matters involving a ton of money). I can handle work pressure but the stress created by my boss is tough to handle. For instance, I have a junior who is supposed to be exclusively working with me but my boss gives him independent work and keeps him busy, which means I’m effectively on my own.

Anyway, I want to make a move to a company where the work & ambience will be very different from a litigation firm. I don't want to move to another firm because there is just too much stress and I really need a break. But I am scared to take the plunge - what if I can't adjust in a company since I am so used to a firm? As in I do a lot of my work independently and my bosses don't really interfere with the calls I make on my matters. I will have a strict hierarchy & reporting structure in a company.

I'm confused. Please help.

Well, I’m going to take your question in parts and answer them to the point.

First, at the current firm, you’re getting to do your own thing which means that the boss trusts your decisions completely. Now, that could also translate to the fact that he doesn’t have to spend time reviewing your work. It then brings us to the fact that your boredom isn’t really due to the lack of opportunities. It’s stemming from the fact that while you need to be given space to do your own thing, you are also asking for recognition for it. That may not be the way that your manager sees the situation. He might feel that the best recognition has been given in the form of letting you do your own thing! No? It’s going to be a matter of perspectives, until you sit down with your manager and share your views.

Getting opportunities of the kind that you’ve described are rare to come by at an early stage in one’s career. It looks very likely that the hidden reason for a job change is the working relationship with your manager. You may want to address that quickly. It could also be that your manager’s seeing the appreciation from clients and doesn’t really want to make changes in working styles that could backfire.

Stress which you feel is created by the manager (like giving work to your direct report) could be sorted out too. Talk it out to your manager. He needs to know that you aren’t comfortable with his approach and that you are responsible for the performance of your direct report. For all practical purposes, he might feel that your direct report is under utilized or the job allotted doesn’t fall under your activities. It’ll stay that way if you ignore the issue and wish it to go away! Start with having a discussion. Try and be candid.

Here’s a tip though, most often there’s a tendency to bring up an issue when it happens. For example, you may want to bring it up the next time you see your boss assigning work to your direct report. That could be plain bad timing! Since there could be urgency around getting that specific work done and you could look like delaying it. On the contrary, have the discussion once your direct report finishes the work and hands it over to your boss. You can then explain your stand when things are calm. Start with explaining that when works gets allotted without your knowledge, it becomes hard for you to plan your deliverables. It could also put the direct report under dilemma to prioritize his work, leading to delay in completion of projects. Your boss needs to know that his approach is hampering your work. The way I see it now is that you are delaying having that discussion with him sand you’re taking on the work that your direct report would have otherwise completed for you. Obviously, leading to a lot of frustration! Speak up.

If you like what you are doing and see a lot of opportunities, why would you choose to change jobs? Beats me. Often, the very idea for a job change crops up when the reason for the change could have been addressed in the first place. Makes sense? To be honest, you might get the same opportunities in a Company, but the number of people in there is going to be tough competition to beat. Not due to lack of competency. Not due to lack of knowledge. It’s a number game in a bigger Company and that’s going to take a while to beat. Also, there will be processes and procedures to follow. That might prove to be a challenge for someone who is used to working independently. It will work, provided you have the patience to ace the system.

The bottom line is that you have chance to sort out differences with your manager at the current firm. It might lead you to give up things that you would have liked if it was done your way. You’ll get things that you didn’t expect would come your way. That’s the way these discussions go. Once you are done having that discussion, you can then decide if it’s worth sticking with the firm. Your decision will then have more objective reasoning.

Good luck!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Can I record my job interview?

I’m looking for a job change and have been interviewing with select employers. I’ve noticed that most interview processes start with a phone-interview. The interviewer is either the hiring manager or a person from the technical panel. I want to know if I can record phone interviews. I’m interested in working on the questions asked in the interviews, since it will help me prepare for future interviews.


Well, must say, this is an interesting question. While you’ve got a valid reason to record phone interviews, to start with, you will need the consent of the interviewer.

Getting consent is very tricky since there are dependencies attached to it. First, the Company/interviewer will need to address the legalities involved in giving consent. Read: Potential lawsuits. Second, far too many interviewers aren’t trained at taking interviews and might end up saying or committing to things that aren’t in their control. They might fear you’ll hold them responsible for it at a later stage.

Let’s assume you do get consent, I suspect there’s a high possibility that the interviewer might show restraint in sharing information around confidential data, career growth, details around compensation, etc. On the other hand, nothing stops you from pressing the record button on the phone, as long as you are using it ONLY for your own purpose and you don’t hold the Company/interviewer responsible for anything committed in the discussion. I would suggest you don’t do that and instead take notes.

That prompts me to ask: What is stopping you from taking notes during an interview?

If you do take notes, you can write back to the interviewer, sharing your understanding of the role and responsibilities required for the job. If there really is a technical question that you need help with getting answers, here’s an approach that might work in your favor. Write down the question during the interview. Once you’re done with the interview, search for answers (online, books, peers, friends, etc.). Mail the interviewer with answers to the question that you weren’t to answer in the interview. In my experience, good interviewers for mighty impressed with candidates that follow this approach. It tells them three things. One, you are keen about the role. Two, you've demostrated your keenness by getting back to them with solutions. Three, you are receptive to feedback. It's a combination that interviewers look for and will help you stand out among many applicants.

Good luck!