Happy February, everyone. This month's issue comes to you a little later than I'd hoped due to some technical reasons on my end. But I hope you find it worth the wait.
This issue is about putting your best foot forward, putting yourself out there, and thinking about why you're doing what you're doing and what impact you're looking for.
It's the Great Resignation, and many people are out looking for jobs. That means lots of interviewing. Over the last year, I've seen the following question come up from candidates when I'm interviewing them:
What reservations do you have about my ability to do the job?
The first time I heard this question was about a year ago. I was taken aback, and thankfully I didn't have anything to answer because the candidate was a good fit, and I had no reservations. I wasn't the ultimate decision-maker for that role, and they didn't end up getting the job.
Over the last year, I've talked with other hiring managers and HR pros and found this was a common piece of advice given out on TikTok and LinkedIn by "career coaches" offering interview hacks. They posed it as an opportunity for the candidate to assuage concerns the manager may have about their experience or background.
But the general consensus among HR professionals and hiring managers, who have a lot more experience interviewing candidates than many of these social media career influencers do, is that this ends the interview on a low note. It also shows a lack of confidence.
Interviewing is really hard, especially if you're a member of an underrepresented group. I strongly recommend not giving anyone an additional reason to doubt your ability to do the job.
Instead, ask questions that show you understand the role.
Ask about how your contributions will be measured.
Ask what the hiring manager would change if they could change one thing.
Ask what a typical day looks like.
Is this a new role, or is this replacing someone who left?
Ask what the onboarding process looks like.
Ask them how their role has changed since they started.
Ask them what gets them excited about the company's future.
These questions ask about your role, the manager, and the company itself. They're questions you'll definitely want the answers to, and they're questions that people have asked me that have made them stand out.
If you got past the resume and recruiter screen, the manager is pulling for you already. You've cleared some high hurdles, and the job is yours to lose. Don't end that conversation with a question that makes that hiring manager doubt your abilities.
Leave that conversation on a high note, with confidence.
Putting yourself out there can be daunting. We've all seen the mean comment threads, and it doesn't feel good to be on the receiving end of negativity. But what hurts more is no feedback.
I started writing my own music when I was in 4th grade. I put together my first album in college, but I only gave copies to a handful of friends because I was afraid of negative comments. My friends liked it, but you can't always count on your friends to give their honest thoughts.
Twelve years later and hundreds of songs later, I finally got brave enough to participate in the RPM Challenge, a yearly event where people all over the world record an album in February. I wrote and recorded an album of nine songs in less than a month. The end result had some serious flaws that I can still hear whenever I listen. I was nervous that people would notice the flaws too, but the deadline was there, and it was time to ship, flaws and all. So I did the best job I could do, then I shipped.
Nobody pointed out the flaws I heard when I released the album online because hardly anyone listened. It felt awful. I'd spent a lot of time putting a lot of work into this project, and there was no interest, and it actually felt worse than negative feedback.
Around the same time, I attended an offsite with the book publisher I work with and some other editors. One of the topics during the meeting was that books with negative reviews actually sell better than books with no reviews. The reason? Negative reviews are engagement, and no reviews signal a lack of interest.
Eventually, interest in my music picked up. I've licensed some of it for background music in videos, which pushed me to launch a song on Spotify and other music services. I slowly started receiving positive feedback, so I put even more effort in, releasing a single, a full album and a couple of smaller EPs. While interest in my music isn't huge, it's more than I would have if I'd kept it to myself.
Initially, I was so afraid of people criticizing my work that I wasted over 12 years where I could have been getting feedback. I set myself back.
But another thing I learned from this experience is that you can put your heart and soul into a creative effort only to find out that there's no market for it. And it's probably better to find that out sooner than later so you can move on and put your energy into something else.
Remember that no feedback is a kind of feedback too.
When you're creating something, whether code, content, music, or art, do you have a clear picture of what you hope to get out of it? You might really enjoy the topic and want to share it, but is that the result you're looking for when it gets out there? Do you know how it may perform? Do you have measurements in place to know if you were successful, so you know it's worth putting more effort into that activity going forward?
And if you work for someone else, do you know how you're measured at an organizational level?
Whether you're trying to find a market for your content or you're trying to build a case for that next promotion, you need to understand how your work fits into the bigger picture. This will help you figure out if you're working on the right things.
If you're working in a traditional business, your department and team exist to solve some particular business goal. You need to find out very early on what that goal is. Doing this will have the following results:
It'll give you a good frame of reference for why the "higher-ups" make certain decisions.
It'll help you identify if your team and function are a company's cost center or profit center. Some things are there to support existing customers, while other things exist to bring in new ones.
It'll help you ensure you are personally working on the right things, which will help with career growth and general happiness.
That last one is the biggest. If you're working on things you enjoy, but they're not aligned with the outcomes an organization needs, you will find it hard to grow in your role. Performance and goal discussions become harder. Promotions at most companies require justifications at a business and organizational level, and it's easy to get sucked into the work you do without understanding how what you do contributes to the organization or how it's measured.
If you find yourself in a spot where it is hard to measure your impact, you might want to consider making a move to somewhere else soon. Recruiters and hiring managers want to see quantifiable accomplishments on your resume. If you can't explain how you bring value to an organization, you'll have a more challenging time telling that story when it does come time to jump ship.
So far, I've only covered traditional workplaces, but if you're trying to kick start that side hustle you've been telling your friends about, you'll want to consider the same kinds of questions. That way, there's accountability for yourself. There's only so much time in the day, and you want to use it as effectively as possible. Spending hours on something that isn't performing doesn't feel good.
So, figure out what the objectives are.
Who are you building this for?
What are their needs?
What does success look like?
How will you measure it?
And for a really great book on all of this, I highly recommend Measure What Matters. It focuses on the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) model that many places use. I recommend reading it so you can build a better understanding of one way to set goals, create measurements, and make better decisions.
You can apply this to your career and hobbies as well. Don't just float along and do. Ask hard questions, measure the results, and put those results into action.
Here are some things to think about between now and the end of the month.
What interview questions can you ask at the end of an interview? Make yourself a list of questions that will tell you what you need to know to feel good about the prospective employer and questions that will let you emphasize your own abilities.
What's something you've been wanting to share with the world but are afraid of? Is it a tutorial you've wanted to write? A video you want to share? A drawing? Take the leap. Put it out there and see what happens. This is the month to do it!
How are you measured at work? What, specifically, are your team goals, and how do they align with the organization's goals? How do your individual and career goals align to those? Take some time to map them out. And don't just do it as a mandatory work exercise once a year. Check in with yourself. Reflect on your progress. Are you going where you want to go? What needs to change?
Is there something you're doing that you could stop to take some of the pressure off of yourself or make room for something new?
There's only so much time in the day and only so much energy you can spend. I think it's worth the time to do that work. Sometimes it might mean letting go of something you've grown attached to. But honestly, every time I've done that, I've been able to put much more energy into the next thing, to my benefit. I hope you can find some of that success too!
See you next month. Thanks for letting me take up a little bit of your inbox and your attention.