Category: HR tips (Jedi mind tricks)

The Three True Interview Questions

Good, interesting post by George Bradt at Forbes, who argues that all interview exchanges answer one of three questions:

The only three true job interview questions are:

1.  Can you do the job? [Strengths]
2.  Will you love the job? [Motivation]
3.  Can we tolerate working with you? [Fit]

…every question, however it is phrased, is just a variation on one of these topics: Strengths, Motivation, and Fit.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES: Symmetry Capital Management, LLC (SCM) is a Pennsylvania registered investment advisor that offers discretionary investment management to individuals and institutions. SCM is not affiliated with or related to Symmetry Partners, LLC. This publication is for informational, educational, and entertainment purposes only. It is not an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy securities, or to engage in any investment strategy. Past performance is not indicative of future results. This material does not take into account your personal investment objectives, your personal financial situation and needs, or your personal tolerance for risk. Thus, any investment strategies or securities discussed may not be suitable for you. You should be aware of the real risk of loss that accompanies any investment strategy or security. It is strongly recommended that you consider seeking advice from your own investment advisor(s) when considering any particular strategy or investment.  We do not guarantee any specific outcome or profit from any strategy or security discussed herein. The opinions expressed are based on information believed to be reliable, but SCM does not warrant its completeness or accuracy, and you should not rely on it as such. All views and positions are subject to change without notice.

Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Address

I was fortunate enough to receive a friend’s email with a link to Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. This is the kind of biographical stuff that really matters; the rarely-told stories that catch us by surprise and allow us to end the day a little wiser than when we began it: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

In it, Jobs told the new graduates three personal stories, about connecting the dots, love and loss, and death, drawing immensely powerful lessons from each of them:

…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life…

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle…

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

The usual biographical details that have been offered in the wake of Jobs’ passing, as impressive as some of them are, are merely reflections of who he was—his inner drives and passions, the opportunities and obstacles he encountered, and the powerful insights that he developed along the way. Most of us, when looking at someone like him, realize that our own path is unlikely to lead to such prominence. And the standard reporting on his life, death, and legacy tend to reaffirm that, again and again. 

Thankfully, his 2005 speech illuminates the utter irrelevance of such thinking. Jobs’ insights and advice are relevant, available, and actionable to all of us, regardless of our station in life. Yes, he clearly left behind an amazing collection of technological design and innovation, and a historically successful company.  But iPads, iPhones, and the rest of the lot will eventually be outdated (and in the world that Jobs helped to create, sooner rather than later). We will eventually have no choice but to let them go, as Hank Stuever so eloquently put it. By comparison, the three lessons that he shared with the world in 2005 are powerful, universal, and timeless. And as such, they are arguably the more important part of his legacy.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES: Symmetry Capital Management, LLC (SCM) is a Pennsylvania registered investment advisor that offers discretionary investment management to individuals and institutions. This publication is for informational, educational, and entertainment purposes only. It is not an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy securities, or to engage in any investment strategy. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Neither the firm, nor its principals, nor its clients own securities issued by or directly related to Apple.

Turmoil at Standard & Poor’s

Bloomberg reported today that Standard & Poor’s (S&P) president, Deven Sharma, will be leaving his post at the end of the year.

You never know for sure if a chief’s departure is politically-driven or voluntary, but the timing and details of this one definitely argue for the former. For example, his replacement will start in mid-September, whereupon Sharma will be assigned to a “strategic review” detail. Against the background of the nasty political fallout that followed S&P’s questionable downgrade of the U.S. government’s credit rating, it would appear that Sharma took a big gamble and lost.

And the firm’s recent actions under his leadership (in addition to its credit rating missteps under prior leaders) have tainted its reputation and credibility. In other words, they’ve done real damage to shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders, and possibly everyone who has been impacted by the USG downgrade.

Of course, in our view, the downgrade was a non-issue for markets. But if it enables or motivates U.S. policymakers to tighten when they shouldn’t be, then Sharma and S&P will be responsible for significantly more suffering that they are today.

As for its reputation, the damage done to can be seen in the scrutiny that recent whipsaw changes in S&P’s rating on Google’s stock are being subjected to:

Standard & Poor’s upgraded Google’s stock on Monday, giving it a “hold” rating, reversing its much-debated downgrade the prior week.

S&P had slapped Google with a Sell rating — the only such bearish call on the Internet giant’s stock among almost 40 analysts tracked by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S — after a surprise August 15 announcement that it will buy Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc for $12.5 billion…

Shares of Google have fallen more than 10 percent from their closing price before the deal was announced, trading just a whisker below $500 in the afternoon, compared to the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s roughly 3 percent drop during the period.

But while several analysts adjusted targets on Google’s stock price following news of the deal, no other firm appears to have downgraded Google’s stock, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Another misstep? Doesn’t sound like it (emphasis added):

Scott Kessler, the head of technology sector equity research at S&P, said the sell-off in Google’s stock following the Motorola news had brought its share price down to the $500 target that he set for Google when he downgraded the stock.

“It’s very hard for us to say sell this stock when it’s trading below its target price,” Kessler told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

The fact that the back-to-back Google downgrade and upgrade came from S&P Equity, whose parent’s unprecedented downgrade of United States sovereign debt this month roiled global markets and prompted discussion, made the move all the more striking.

The fact that the moves came from S&P is probably the only reason anyone’s reporting on it!

Kessler acknowledged it was unusual to see a stock’s recommendation change so quickly. But he said the move was consistent with S&P’s approach to equity research.

“If we made a change to our fundamental commentary or the target price, that would understandably be a little curious,” he said.

And so what sounds like reasonable analysis and a second ratings change based solely on prive movements (markets have been extremely volatile of late) has to be explained to the media, most likely to several news outlets, costing people, teams, and departments at S&P time and resources.  

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES: Symmetry Capital Management, LLC (SCM) is a Pennsylvania registered investment advisor that offers discretionary investment management to individuals and institutions. This publication is for informational, educational, and entertainment purposes only. It is not an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy securities, or to engage in any investment strategy. Past performance is not indicative of future results. This material does not take into account your personal investment objectives, your personal financial situation and needs, or your personal tolerance for risk. Thus, any investment strategies or securities discussed may not be suitable for you. You should be aware of the real risk of loss that accompanies any investment strategy or security. It is strongly recommended that you consider seeking advice from your own investment advisor(s) when considering any particular strategy or investment.  We do not guarantee any specific outcome or profit from any strategy or security discussed herein. The opinions expressed are based on information believed to be reliable, but SCM does not warrant its completeness or accuracy, and you should not rely on it as such. Neither the firm, nor its principals, nor its clients own securities issued by Google or McGraw Hill.

Ten Things That Can Get You Fired

Good list of HR insights here–the first few are rather obvious (come to work on Monday, be honest about your qualifications, and don’t stink), but four through ten are good to know.

If you want to keep your job, don’t:

4. Stay Anonymous

5. Refuse to Compromise

6. Be Ungrateful

7. Disrespect the Chain of Command

8. Spend Time With the Complainers, Non-Performers and Gossips

9. Avoid Responsibility When Things Go Wrong

10. Take Credit for Other People’s Work

http://www.fins.com/Finance/Articles/SB130747091120722005/Ten-Things-That-Can-Get-You-Fired

Mauboussin on Incentives

In his latest piece, the thinking investor’s strategist, Michael Mauboussin writes about the complex nature of incentives and the importance of “intrinsic motivation” — as opposed to purely external rewards — in encouraging desirable behavior: 

[I]ntrinsic motivation only thrives when an organization fosters autonomy, a sense of mastery, and a feeling of purpose. Unfortunately, these conditions are frequently absent in a corporate setting. Many popular management techniques—budgets, goal-setting, and financial reward systems—actually undermine the conditions that encourage intrinsic motivation…

Intrinsically-motivated people are not simply going through the motions to reach an end; they believe that their actions contribute to a greater good. Purpose often comes through as passion.  

Maybe I’m being old-fashioned, but the words “drive and mindset” seem like poor substitutes for “character”. Intrinsic motivation is neat, cutting-edge stuff, but there are plenty of mundane or uncomfortable situations where people face a choice between doing the right thing and doing something else. No matter how much we learn about ourselves, character will always count — and the fact that character is made, not born makes it all the more relevant. 

That quibble aside, it’s a great piece as usual from one of the most interesting minds in our business. Should be of interest to investors, executives, HR folks, and psychology buffs.

HR Tips: Mentoring

Judith Ritter has written a timely article on mentoring for www.fins.com:

…good mentoring helps a company attract and retain its brightest young talent while preparing them for future leadership positions. In return for sharing their wisdom, the mentors themselves often gain valuable insights from fresh, eager young colleagues. 

She offers some good advice on identifying and engaging with potential mentors, though she doesn’t fully flesh out the process for formalizing a mentoring relationship. Our two cents? Get expectations on paper, and agree to a specific trial period before both sides commit to a long term or open ended relationship. Agree in advance that there will be no hard feelings if either party declines to continue. Come to some basic agreement around exit plans beyond the trial period, even if the relationship will be open ended. Ideally, a skilled and experienced mentor will already know to do this stuff. But if your mentor is a novice at mentoring, it might make sense to obtain some outside guidance.

The most important aspect of the article is Ritter’s claim that “Young finance professionals need all the help they can get to meet the challenges of a volatile financial environment.” While the website’s audience is financial professionals, her idea can be applied more broadly: All young adults, regardless of their occupation, will need plenty of help in what’s likely to be a volatile and subpar economy over the next decade. On an individual level, solid mentoring can offer competitive advantages over the course of a career. If pursued by enough people, perhaps it could make a small dent in some of the expected negative consequences of persistent underemployment. 

Young adults are going to learn the importance of practices like networking and mentoring in the years ahead, and the lessons will be more painful than they were for people my age and older. The sooner they start learning them, the better off they should be.

HR Jedi Mind Tricks: Three Interview Questions

HR Jedi Penelope Trunk has posted some helpful advice at BNET on three common interview questions and how to approach them:

  • Tell me about yourself. [Best not to point out to an interviewer that technically, that isn't a question.]
  • How much money do you need to make?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

You’ll encounter these in almost every interview, and she offers advice on how to respond in a way that differentiates you.

http://www.bnet.com/blog/penelope-trunk/common-interview-questions-and-how-to-answer-them/194?tag=content;drawer-container

HR Jedi Mind Tricks: References

We’re adding a new and timely category of posts to our website that we’ve tagging ’HR Jedi Mind Tricks’.   These posts will link readers to helpful advice and resources from folks in the human resources field.  Our immediate hope is that they will be useful to readers who are currently job seeking, while also offering insights that all readers can apply in their careers.  

If you’re wondering about the name, it’s based on our personal experiences in companies with top notch HR departments, where HR professionals are sort of like Jedi Masters, always seeming to know the right things to say, having an impressive bag of tricks at their disposal, and in some important ways holding the ‘keys to the kingdom’.  Also, a classmate of ours who previously worked for one of the most progressive HR departments in the world told us that the company’s prescribed technique (yes, prescribed) for employees to express negative emotions to other employee was dubbed internally “the jedi mind trick”, because in skilled hands it was a powerful technique for influencing others. 

The Jedi mind trick tag might sound a bit cheeky, but we really do view sound advice from HR professionals as invaluable.  If you want to better understand the psychology and nuances of hiring, firing, performance, influence, reputation, advancement, etc, they are the folks to listen to.

In our inaugural Jedi mind trick post, we’re linking to a good, short audio primer on how one should handle the “references” question during an interview: http://job-search-success-secrets.com/blog/letter-reference-talk