Mistakes We Make in Job Interviews Infographic

by Pete Ferguson

I love Infographics! I subscribe to receive emails with several a day and I’m constantly surfing the Internet for new examples of how to breakdown complex information into a graphic representation.

This topic of job interviews is a great one. One of my largest pet peeves when I’m the interviewer is when I ask the applicant what they know of the company I work for – which is the World’s Largest Online Commerce with two of the most visited websites in the world – and they don’t know about and they’ve never used our services. You don’t get hired for your great personality alone … you need to do your research!

You should spend 10-20 hours researching the company, seeing who you may know who already works there through LinkedIn, etc. and use their products before showing up for the first time and trying to convince them you are a good fit.

For those who regularly screen and interview, consider a tip I read in HR Management magazine and have applicants post a 2-minute video online explaining why they are the best candidate and 2-3 questions specific to the position. What used to take hours to sift through resumes and hold initial interviews or phone screenings will be a very entertaining 20-30 minutes max.

My favorite was when we were hiring for a training expert with experience in video production and web design. Many applicants contacted our recruiter saying they hadn’t uploaded a video to the Internet before and did he know of a site where they could do that? This shortened the list very quickly as I consider publishing a video to YouTube easy enough for even me to accomplish with one thumb press on my iPhone.

Of the videos we did receive, one guy was using a headset and the webcam for his current employer’s computer, sitting in his current cubicle with coworkers walking behind him. That one was a great laugh and that was all it was.

Unfortunately, not a single applicant did anything creative, mostly just talking heads reading a monotone script or “winging it” with bad lighting and sound. I was amazed no one was willing to go out on a limb a bit and put together something entertaining to show their creative side.

It is pretty much a given that your LinkedIn, WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and other accounts will be reviewed. So don’t post anything your father or mother would be shocked to see or read. [My dad reviews my posts regularly and provides wise feedback and input.]

Last week I was conducting a phone screening interview with a candidate and so I pulled up her profile while I was talking on the phone to compare against her resume and I saw that she had stated that she was voted #1 Mom by her three daughters. I have three daughters, and that made an immediate connection that softened me up through the applicant’s nervousness. So I asked her about it, she laughed and asked if that was appropriate to put on her page. I thought it was! She then slowed down and became a lot more humanistic instead of robotic.

Painting your humanistic side is good. However, I don’t recommend using your favorite bar or beach photo for your LinkedIn profile (seen it many times), and the old saying of “what happens in ______ (Vegas or company party, or wherever) stays in _______” didn’t account for smartphones, Google searches, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

And now to the promised infographic:


Should You Go to University?

I have a bachelors degree in Communications, Public Relations & Marketing. I’m also a “Certified Protection Professional” with the American Society for Industrial Security.

In and of themselves, these two certificates I have in my office do not open doors for me. What each did, however, is unlock critical thinking.

by Pete Ferguson

I also have a bookshelf full of great books – which also got me thinking outside of the box. And despite being in the security industry, I regularly read Fast Company, Inc, HR Manager, CIO, and ComputerWorld magazines and attend webinars and other learning opportunities not directly related to my field.

Barry Schwartz on LinkedIn writes:

In my view, higher education should be equipping students to answer these four questions:

  1. What is worth knowing?
  2. What is worth doing?
  3. What makes for a good human life?
  4. What are my responsibilities to other people?

College is not the only place in which answers to these questions can develop, but it is an important place. And siloed, specialized training in a discipline—any discipline—will answer none of them.

I’m grateful for all of my learning experiences. I would like to get a Master’s degree when Miles (my youngest, now 3) is settled in school. I do better in a structured environment and I liked attending classes and having debates with people not in my line of profession when I started a few years back. But with family, civic, work, travel and other things occupying my time, it wasn’t a good fit.

My father has a PhD and it has served him well. My mentor and career coach Dan Miller did everything required for a PhD except his dissertation when he decided he could spend a year writing a paper that four old men would critique and then it would sit in an archive at the library, or sell a few million dollars in books and seminars on “48 Days to the Work You Love.”

We had a mid-level position open last month – three PhDs applied. The salary I can offer would maybe pay for one semester of school. That blows my mind that someone would invest over $200k on a degree to make $50-60k a year. You may break even the day you die.

Whatever you do, always be learning – advice I received multiple times from good professors and my father – and have tried to apply.

Other great advice I received often is to always be writing. And having written over 240 blog entries here – and commented on countless others – I can attest that it has been very educational and helped me see new perspectives.

Finally, network! Not talking FaceBook here – LinkedIn is better – but make sure you are setting up lunch and coffee appointments to pick people’s brains.

I recently sat down with a very successful CEO and asked him what advice he has for someone my age to get more mentors. His answer – ask, and show value. He says many of his C-level executive friends and peers often talk about wanting to have a mentee, but seldom get asked. He recommends I select ten people and invite them to lunch on my expense. Be very specific on time requirements (and stick to what you commit to) and actively follow up on everything discussed.

What are you doing to continue your education?


“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” ~ Winston Churchill


by Pete Ferguson

There is a story of an early migrant to the US who attends a competition to watch a number of different ox teams to see which team can out pull the rest.

As the migrant walks around surveying the various teams, he settles in on the two largest ox as the likely winners.

He places his bet and then watches each team yoke up to the heavy load. He is a bit amused when he sees the two smallest ox yoke up. Their owner is gently speaking into their ears, they work in perfect unison and to everyone’s surprise, out pull all of the competition.

Bewildered, and now out hard-earned cash, the migrant asks a bystander how it is possible to which he gets the reply: “it isn’t about size, it is about working in unison.”

Where there is unity there is always victory.

~ Publilius Syrus

It isn’t about who is largest, fastest, or the best that defines a winner – it is the person who can unify others to the common cause who moves mountains.

Consider Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela. They each inspired others around them towards a common goal of human decency and equality. And they each did what seemed impossible creating social change with only the thoughts and bodies of those who followed.

As you look at your team, coworkers, family and company – are you all headed in the same direction with the same unity? If not, the fighting within will tear you apart long before the competition will.

It takes courage to not gossip, backbite or fixate on the flaws of others. It takes courage to set aside personal differences, ask for an apology and work together while checking your pride at the door.

Great civilizations have only endured when they were able to unite internally and fight against the external oppressor.

The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Learning Comes First

A problem clearly stated is a problem half solved. ~ Fortune Cookie I ate Last Month

by Pete Ferguson

Learning is an art form which needs to be perfected over and over again.

The need to continually question the “why” behind what we do drives the passion needed to find creative solutions to the problems we face at hand.

“Because I said so” may only win the current battle. To win in the long run, your team must have a greater sense of the “why” we are all doing what we are doing and a personal commitment to pursue it until the end.

A greater sense of purpose drives us through the hard times. Yesterday I was catching up on my stack of Fast Company magazines that have been accumulating over the past few months and came upon a great article by Howard Shultz – former CEO of Starbucks and early board member at eBay who helped to build a lot of the culture I  have come to call home.

Our stock was in free fall and I found myself on the phone with a large institutional shareholder who wanted me to dump long term health care that was costing us $250 Million.
I tried to describe to him that the essence of the brand is humanity and our culture is steeped in two primary benefits that have defined who we are: comprehensive health insurance coverage for our people and equity in the form of stock options which we give to anyone wo works more than 20 hours a week.
I told him … if you believe the financial crisis should change our principles and core purpose, perhaps you should sell your stock. I’m not building a stock. I’m trying to build a great, enduring company. We are a performance driven organization, but we have to lead the company through the lens of humanity.” – Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO
Shifting gears a bit – great leadership with an instilling sense of purpose is the first step to building a great organization. The second trait of great organizations is the “learnership” of the collective team.
Most companies engage in training. Few engage in real learning. Most companies focus heavily on leadership. Few focus on learnership. One path to leadership is innovation. And here’s the thing: learning and innovation go hand in hand, but learning comes first. ~ Matthew E. May
The collective team must learn to think deeply, cognitively, with self-reflection, introspection, and then creativity is opened.
With the foundation of “why” we are engaged with a project, product, company, or vision – coupled with a keen desire to learn all we can and an openness to set free what we think we know – great things can happen.
John Donahoe, CEO of eBay, recently concluded a world tour where he shared his vision of building an enduring company. Not a great stock. Not a place where there is free food, stock options, sabbaticals, and health care – though all of these contributing factors exist in different ways. He wants to be part of an organization which transcends the “checklist” of great places to work and enters a higher realm where people feel empowered to change the world.
I’m along for the journey as I pursue my own quest to change the physical security industry. I used to think the change was all about regulations, mandated training, waiting for the old way of thinking to retire.
But now I realize that my quest is about building a collective desire to rise above the Hollywood stereotypes, to embrace multiple disciplines of thinking and doing things, to embrace technology, provide educational opportunities, and to continually embrace the question, “what could we do if …” – and then prototype the “if” and see where it takes us.
This week we are entering the final rounds of an IT Hackathon where we placed 5th out of 150 entries with the judges and 3rd in popularity. This is an area I wouldn’t have thought we belonged in – because I was thinking like a traditional security person. Thankfully a team member saw the potential and we began to explore the “what if” on a white board and it started to take form. I had to act like a learner and then taking a large leap wasn’t so daunting.
What stereotypes are holding you back? What dreams are you afraid to dream – or dread awakening from? The fear is not real – it is coming from a lack of comfort and the lack of comfort is coming from what you do not know.
When you begin to search for like-minded people and fill in the blanks of what you do not know, the fear gives way to excitement and gives you the courage to dream a larger dream.
Expand your mind and focus on learning new things. It will propel you to heights you did not think were possible. And start making your dent in the Universe.
Pick up a magazine outside of your industry. Talk to someone next to you on the plane. Plan to go to lunch with a stranger. Hire someone completely opposite from you. Then dare to dream and awaken to experiment with the “unknown” and make it known.

Generation Y Redefines Success

The trip to “Success” can be a confusing one. If you allow others to define it for you – you will never arrive.

Kayla Cruz is a “twenty-something, annoyed with corporate bs. Obsessed with Gen-Y. Letting current leadership know what Gen-Yers want. Not bratty. Just opinionated”who states it better than I ever could. Check out her take on how Generation Y Redefines Success.

I think that Generation Y wants to succeed, we want to be successful. But at the same time, our picture of success is very different from that of generations before us. The idea of working 80 hours a week behind a desk with no time to pursue our other interests is not really all that appealing.

That’s why we’re asking for flex time.

That’s why there no longer exists a corporate ladder.

That’s why we’re seen as so demanding.

We want more to life than just work.

What is Your Shelf Life?

It’s really clear to me that you can’t hang onto something longer than its time. Ideas lose certain freshness, ideas have a shelf life, and sometimes they have to be replaced by other ideas. ~ Alan Alda

by Pete Ferguson

Having a great idea is great. Taking action on it is even better. But as soon as I start to rest on my laurels, the expiration of greatness can sneak up on me and begin to stink.

It’s funny, because we can see other’s shelf life easily – It’s the guy who has been in the job for over a decade and always wants to talk about the good old days (um, sometimes that’s me!).

Or it is the gal who came up with a great idea and was recognized for it … five years ago … and hasn’t done much since.

Within my profession, there is a certification that requires taking a pretty difficult test (the test is difficult, not the knowledge the test is supposed to be validating). People expect that gaining the three letters CPP, PCP, or PSP behind their name is supposed to somehow ensure greatness for the coming decades. Same goes for PhD, DDS, etc. The shelf life of the letters expires the Monday after you received them. Party is over, time to look for the next great thing.

I find I’m happiest when I’m focused on the road ahead instead of what is fading away in the rear view mirror.

An acting career usually has about a shelf life of ten years before people get sick of seeing you. It’s a good thing to have a job to fall back on and I really do enjoy directing. ~ George Clooney

Understanding your own shelf life takes practice and humility.

Jerry Seinfield pulled the plug on his show when everyone else thought there was another season or two. Smart move. Michael Jordan retired in his prime.

Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana. ~ Bill Gates

The moments in my life that are most disappointing occur when I didn’t see change coming. I didn’t realize my shelf life on a project or in a position had long since expired. But everyone around me knew it! I had begun to stink in yesterday’s success.

So how do you keep from expiring? I have a few thoughts, but I’m mostly interested in yours:

  1. Read. Read. Read some more. Study the lives of great people and learn from their successes and failures.
  2. Read outside of your genre. I’m in the physical security profession, but I read about psychology, coaching, technology, cars, etc.
  3. Be sure to have a few good mentors who will tell you how it is straight up. If they are hurting your feelings, good, that means they smell what you are not smelling.
  4. Listen more than you talk. Also consider hiring a career coach.
  5. Every year commit to stop doing about 1/3 of what you are currently doing and replace it with big, bold, challenging tasks – that way you are a new person every three years.

This is where I need you to chime in – because your perspective will benefit me more than me typing a few more words. Selfish, I know, but lay it on straight. My WordPress theme is really stale, my writing is getting predictable … lay it on. Or let me know what tricks you have used over the years to keep it fresh.

Forcing the Fit

If a square peg doesn’t fit a round hole, neither the peg nor the hole is to blame. ~ Jeffrey Bryant

by Pete Ferguson

Last night I came home to a very tearful and broken seven-year-old daughter.

Recently we needed to find a new piano teacher for my kids, so we did our research and identified the “best” teacher in the area. Her resume of experience and education was excellent. We were convinced that this is what our family needed and scheduled an interview.

She met with each of our children and it seemed like a good fit – except that she warned her style works better for older children. Wanting to keep everyone together, we forced the fit.

Now my daughter, Ashley, was beginning to question her self-worth because she was clashing with the strict personality of this expert teacher. She let her emotions go at her lesson yesterday and it didn’t end well, and as a result we are now in search of a better teacher/student personality fit.

How many times have you heard “grin and bear it?”

“Suck it up?”

Sometimes that is needed to get through a rough patch, but I’m learning that upon hearing these phrases in my mind or coming out of other people’s mouths that it is also a potential indicator that there is not a good fit and something needs to change.

… the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re destroying the peg. ~ Paul Collins

At work I’ve similarly witnessed a bad fit – and at very senior levels. I recall years ago being asked to organize a vehicle to pick up a new VP and entourage. My company is known for the CEO sitting in a cubicle and leadership who are approachable.

The new guy was supposed to be “the guy” to take our company to the next level. He was cold and standoffish. He treated me like the hired help while every other senior leader I’ve worked around has always taken time to ask my name and a little about me.

I recall at the time thinking – the startup ride is finally over, we are now going to be like everybody else and our culture of friendly people would be going away.

Thankfully he didn’t last very long. Despite his resume and experience, his personality wasn’t a good fit and he moved on to another opportunity.

The same has happened for people on my team over the years. Great experience. Great education. Great references. But in the end, it hasn’t been a good fit and no one was happy.

I’ve found that I’m a square peg and I need to avoid trying to slip into circular holes where a lot of pressure and change must be applied for me to “fit.”

Within the many civic, religious, business, and personal responsibilities you have, there are likely situations that are not a great fit. Today is the day to identify it and search for where you will fit in better.

It is different than just quitting – it is providing an opportunity for you and the organization to soar to new heights by removing a roadblock.

What relationships are you trying to force? Maybe it is time for a different approach.