Why Should I Hire You?

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The presidential primaries will heat up next week as voters in Iowa and New Hampshire go the polls. There have been rallies, debates, TV appearances, and lots of activity. But it all boils down to one basic question on the mind of each voter: “Why should I hire you?” Whichever candidate answers that question best gets the job.

That question applies to many of our students too. As they advance in their careers, a part of that journey requires them to interview and convince a hiring manager (or committee) that they are the best candidate for the role. So how do you answer the question “Why should I hire you?”

Well, this is a sales question – you’re selling yourself after all – and sales people know that this question boils down to features vs. benefits. And if you ask any successful sales person, they will tell you…always lead with benefits.

What’s the difference? Features are attributes while benefits are gains or advantages that solve a larger problem. Think of your smartphone. Why did you “hire” (buy) it? Because you could make calls, send email, surf the web? Yes, but those are all features. Dig deeper and you’ll realize you bought it for it’s primary benefit – it’s a tool that connects you to your world wherever you go. That’s the gain, or the problem solved. All those features – calls, email, internet – support the primary benefit. Same goes for that winter sweater you just bought. Yes, it’s made of cashmere and comes in your favorite color – all features. But you bought it for its benefits – it makes you look good, or it goes perfectly with those shoes in your closet.

So let’s apply this to interviewing.  Most people typically answer the question by promoting their features. They’ll talk about their experience (“I have 10 years of experience as a…”) or educational background (“I earned a certificate in…”) or highlight their positive character traits (“I’m a team-player…”). These are all fine, but there are two issues. One, everyone does that, so you won’t stand out. Two, you’re talking about your features, not the benefits you’ll bring to the organization that’s considering hiring you.

Instead, lead with the benefits the company will gain by hiring you and support it with your features. Talk about what problem you will solve to make the company better (lower costs/ increase revenues/ etc.) or make the hiring manager’s life easier. And this requires research because you have to know what problems you can solve and then match your skills (features) to the problem. So, do your homework (research!) and listen carefully during the interviewing process.

Here are some examples of leading with benefits:

  • I will develop a mobile marketing campaign that reaches your target market on social media and increase traffic to the website. (benefit) I have 5 years of experience developing marketing plans that integrates Facebook traffic…(feature)
  • I will shorten the product development cycle by several weeks by combining the lean startup methodology with new collaboration tools. (benefit) In my current role, I implemented..(feature)

So the next time you’re in an interview and someone asks you the infamous “Why should I hire you?” question (or some variant like “What makes you different?”), think about your smartphone or the sweater you recently bought. Think about the benefits you’ll bring to the company, and back it up with your features.

Oh, and good luck making sense of the noisy presidential election season!

In Honor of Dr. King

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On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, there’s much to celebrate. The work and legacy of Dr. King continues to transform our society. Business, government, and civil society have become more diverse and inclusive. No doubt there is still much, much more work to do and more reform is needed, but overall more voices are being heard and more people can pursue their dreams with fewer institutional barriers or social prejudices in the way.

A lot of attention has moved away from explicit bias – institutional policies or social attitudes that exclude, disenfranchise, or threaten groups of people based on perceived differences –  and more to implicit or unconscious biases that we all have. We are not aware of these biases, yet they pervade our lives and affect our behaviors and choices in life. Example: implicit bias often manifests itself in hiring or promotion decisions – we hire or promote those most similar to us, to the exclusion of others. Not only does this limit opportunities for those who don’t have similar backgrounds, ethnicities, or experiences, but it’s also bad for business.

So if we’re not aware of these biases, how do we counter them? Recently, Verna Meyers, a former Harvard Law-trained corporate lawyer turned diversity expert, appeared on our Institute for Transformational Leadership podcast to talk about implicit bias.  Her solution: acknowledge you have unconscious biases and walk boldly towards them. That is, recognize and confront them. And be curious about them – where did they come from? How did you get to this way of thinking? Only then will you start to tear down these biases, make better decisions, and live a richer and fuller life that embraces the full diversity of the world.

So on the day that we honor Dr. King, if you do nothing else, I encourage you to take an hour to listen to Verna Meyers. Or, watch her 18-minute Tedx Talk. Here’s a great quote from the podcast: “Diversity is about being invited, but inclusion is about being asked to dance.” I’m sure Dr. King would love to see us all dance.

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Competency what?

core competencyWe in higher ed talk a lot about competency-based education. And we assume – wrongly – that students understand what we mean. Why should they understand our jargon? So, if you’re a student, here’s what it means when a program is competency-based:

  1. Skills vs. Time: Traditional programs are measured in time. For example, a three-credit course measures how much time you’ve sat in a classroom (or online). This assumes that you learned something during that time, and that assumption may or may not be true. In contrast, competency-based programs don’t make that assumption – time doesn’t really matter. What matters is mastery of a core skill – or what we call a competency. Some students can master a skill in two hours while others may take two weeks. It doesn’t matter, as long as the skill is mastered. And you have to prove that you mastered it before you move on to the next skill. Competency-based education doesn’t assumed you’ve learned anything until you prove it, which brings us to the next point.
  2. Valid & Reliable Assessment: Traditional programs use quizzes and exams to evaluate learning. The problem is that these are weak proxies for measuring the mastery of a skill. At the same time, quizzes and exams aren’t how you will be evaluated in the real world. Your supervisor or client won’t ask you to take a test. They want a plan, a spreadsheet analysis, a budget, an executive summary, a presentation, etc. So competency-based programs place a lot of emphasis on assessments that measure your real skill level, a skill that you can apply to your job. To do so, faculty spend a lot of time mapping competencies, creating valid and authentic assessments, and giving feedback.

So why should any of this matter to you, the student? Because employers and hiring managers hire on the basis of competencies. They want to know what skills you have, your level of mastery, and most importantly how you use them to solve problems, communicate with clients, etc. A competency-based program gives employers more confidence in – and evidence of – your skills.

The Skill of Serendipity

serendipOrganizations and managers are often exhorted to me be more “innovative” so as to develop the next must-have product or service. But what does it mean to be more innovative? Much stock is placed in innovation processes like design thinking or theories such as Clayton Christensen’s theory of Disruptive Innovation.  However, a recent article in the New York Times points out that the ability to be innovative may be mostly due to one critical and basic skill: the ability to pay attention.

Pagan Kennedy, a journalist and author who covers innovation, writes about the skill of serendipity. Serendipity is a word that comes from the Persian fairy tale about the three princes of Serendip (now Sri Lanka) who, as they traveled, stumbled upon “happy accidents or discoveries”.  Today, we define serendipity as a “happy accident”. But Kennedy argues this definition diminishes the skill of those who do the stumbling; people like Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin and Dr. John Eng who discovered a treatment for diabetes in the saliva of the Gila lizard. These innovators were successful because they got lost a little and stumbled in their respective fields, but they also paid attention, recognized patterns that others couldn’t see, and were able to make connections between disparate phenomenon.

So what does this mean for organizations and managers? Well, managers often value full control, but getting lost a little may help – as long as you pay attention. Organizations sometimes suffer from NIHS – Not Invented Here Syndrome – and discount any innovations that occur outside the organization or industry. Looking outside your industry may help, as long as you pay attention. More importantly, innovation is neither a special skill confined to a few geniuses such as Steve Jobs nor a framework.  Innovation is a skill that thrives in a culture of curiosity and openness.  This means tolerating some failed experiments, taking some blind stabs, acting on a hunch on occasion, and being ok with ambiguity; again, as long as you pay attention. In other words, organizations should foster a culture that values “serendipiters”.

2016 Talent Forecast

2016 is already upon us. With the job market improving, what skills and abilities are employers seeking now? We mined our Labor Insights database to get a snapshot of the past year and, with help from job trends tools provided by Indeed.com, a job search website that posts millions of positions each year, we made our forecast for the year ahead.

2015 Career Snapshot
We probed the Labor Insights database from Dec 3, 2014 to Dec 4, 2015 looking for the top skills in two areas: baseline skills and technical skills. The query included over 35 million job postings. The top 15 baseline skills sought by employers were as follows:

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At CCPE, we offer programs that support professionals in strengthening many of these baseline skills. In communications and writing, we offer programs in Social Media Management, Facilitation, and Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Management as well as individual courses in public speaking and writing.  CCPE also has a partnership with the Georgetown Writing Center to provide customized writing programs for agencies and corporations.  For problem-solving, planning, and project management, we offer programs in Organizational Consulting, Project Management, and Strategy and Performance Management.

The top technical skills included sales, marketing, and business development as well accounting, scheduling, and SQL.  To strengthen these technical skills sets, CCPE offers programs in Marketing, Digital Marketing, Forensic Accounting, and Project Management as well as individual courses in SQL and Python.

Future-proofing Your Career

Looking ahead, we found three trends from Indeed.com that we believe are strong indications of future opportunities.

First, take a look at the search results for jobs including the term “vision” in the job posting:

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The term “vision” is used here as a proxy for leadership skills. As organizations respond to a rapidly changing marketplace, there is a great need for leaders with a clear vision.

Visioning is a skill and mindset we teach in our Leadership Coaching program and Transformational Leadership program.

Second, we searched the term “data scientist” and here were the results:

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Again, there’s a clear trend.  The need for data-savvy and data-confident professionals is growing and we’ve seen this in action with the strong demand for our Data Science certificate program.

Finally, we searched the term “health coach”:

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Yet another clear trend emerges.  Health coaches are becoming more valuable, especially to health insurance companies and hospitals because they are trying to serve a more diverse and aging U.S. population while at the same time attempting to manage costs.

Regardless of your industry or profession, the value and return on investment of learning and development continues to grow as technology, competition, and skills gaps increase. We wish you the best in your professional advancement in 2016.