Interviews, like sales presentations or exams, can be prepared for.  It’s to your advantage to be able to refer to your resume without looking, for example.  After all, can you imagine the person who can explain their background from memory, compared with the person who must check his resume to verify that he graduated in…2003?  Obviously, the first person will come across as having a sincere interest in his future, whereas the second will appear unprepared and less confident.

Qualifications are facts of your educational and professional background, but fundamental personality qualities are harder to define.  And while one can train one’s behavior for a short-term goal like creating a good impression for an interview, most people have their basic personality traits fixed by the time they are about ten years old.

Richard Branson, entrepreneurial founder and CEO of Virgin Group, recently cited he most closely focuses on candidate personality, rather than qualifications.  You can read the article here.  With several HR and other managerial professionals to handle background checks in qualifying interviews, Branson can afford to only consider personality.  But he isn’t wrong to do so:  his primary interest is on building teams of people that can work together for the overall success of Virgin.  Whether a candidate went to a top school or has ten years of experience is somewhat incidental.  Rather, his concern is to know whether that person can work synergistically with the other members of the team.

One survey of global clients rated the top five aspects of personality as:

  • Professionalism
  • High energy
  • Confidence
  • Self-monitoring
  • Intellectual curiosity

We can explore these in a future blog posting.  If you care to comment, what aspects of personality would you consider to be important in your coworkers/management/staff?
 
 
A coworker of mine, whenever asked to do a task, always replied this way:  “No problem.”  He was easy-going, willing to learn, open to new challenges.  At a staff meeting the company owner remarked on this, being so impressed by his can-do attitude.  He and I were both university students, and were part-time workers at a retail store.

In this linked article, Jacquelyn Smith writes about phrases used in the workplace that are used too much, or are just inappropriate for a professional business environment.  I happen to agree with her comments, and would just like to point out that people in a Fortune-500 corporate environment and university students working in front-line retail sales will probably tend to speak English differently amongst each other.

Anyone in Japan still unsure about their English usage in a corporate setting should have a read of this, as the list is very appropriate for the business English learner.

Feel free to share your experiences of language problems in the comments box below.




 
 
[This blog contribution is from one of our founding partners, who recently had a disappointing experience as a customer and would like to offer advice to anyone developing their career in customer relationship management, or CRM.]



Having begun my working career in retail stores and in a restaurant, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to receive training in retail sales and customer service.  And in recruitment, it has been my observation that people with that sort of background offer more to their employer.  My theory is that people with restaurant experience are more tuned into what their boss’ and coworkers’ needs may be—either through specified training or through dealing with the demands of the job, they have developed more empathy, and this makes them much better candidates as executive assistants, salespeople, group managers, or in any job where it’s important to work with people.  I’d like to share some observations I made just last week at a small, trendy restaurant in Shibuya, and demonstrate the importance of well-trained customer service staff.

Having skipped lunch and with some time to spare before meeting up with a friend, I decided to get a late lunch at a café/restaurant I’d been to some months ago.  Decorated in art deco fashion, with soft jazz music playing, it would be a nice place to relax for an hour.  Or so I thought. 

I waited a minute for a group of customers to pay their bill and leave the restaurant before I entered.  On walking inside, the waiter who greeted me informed me that there were no available tables.  That raised a red flag.  Surely he must have seen the other customers leaving?

Lesson A:  Pay attention to your whole work environment, not just your immediate task.  See the big picture. 


Knowing that the waiter must not know seating was available, I asked how long I would have to wait for a table.  That surprised him:  he seemed to expect that I would simply leave to look for a new restaurant.  He replied that he didn’t know.  This was red flag #2.  By simply saying “I don’t know”, he communicated his desire to Not accommodate me, the customer.

Lesson B:  Customer service is about finding solutions to customers’ needs.  No business can afford to turn customers away before offering possible solutions.


I repeated myself, asking how long I would have to wait.  This time the waiter thought to check another section of the restaurant and found that there was indeed a table available.  He sat me and left me with the menus and after several minutes I made my decision and waited for the waiter’s attention.  He never returned to my table, and though he passed nearby several times he never looked in my direction.  After another few minutes I finally managed to wave down a different waiter.  This was red flag #3.  A waiter’s job is to wait on customers, not to ignore them.  A customer should not wait very long and should never have to hunt for a waiter.


Lesson C:  Check back with your customers early, and check back often throughout the service period to make sure their needs are being met.


On ordering from the new waiter, I was informed that the items I wanted were not yet available!   He explained that the restaurant’s full dinner service began at 5:00 (it was now only 4:40), and so he directed me to the section of the menu where the available items were.  Red flag #4.  The first waiter would have known this, but why not tell me this when he gave me the menus?  All-in-all, he was Very unhelpful.


Lesson D:  As a customer service representative, you are providing information to your customer that will help their purchasing decision.  This is the very nature of sales, resulting in customer satisfaction and Very importantly:  repeat business.


The end result?  I looked over the available menu items and decided not to order anything, and instead went to another restaurant. Reviewing the four lessons above, I was A) made to feel unwelcome, B) not made to feel accommodated, C) not being attended to and D) not informed what my available choices were. 

If those four conditions were the opposite, I probably would have stayed and enjoyed everything that was available, but in the end, the lack of quality customer service is what lost that restaurant a customer. These lessons apply to every business out there, including yours.  I hope you can apply them to your own work-life.



 
 
Entering the year 2013, we at Kumo Consulting would like to extend our appreciation to the visitors to our website, the many people who have contacted us with their employment concerns, and to our clients for their time and energy.

We hope your new year break has left you refreshed and ready for the challenges of the coming year.  As many people see this as a time to make new resolutions we'd like to suggest ways to develop your ongoing success and motivation. 

1.  Keep a diary.  Note new people in your life and any projects ongoing.  Make a note about your successes and failures.  Review them the first of each month.
2.  Try something new.  Walk a different route to work, go to a new restaurant each week, read a magazine you've never read before.  Experiencing new things can keep your mind fresh and create new opportunities.
3.  Call people more.  The digital age has brought easy access to online social media, but the phone call often touches people in a way that text messages doesn't.  Care for your relationships.
4.  Research your competitors.  Gain knowledge not just about your industry but how your company is doing in the market, and how your competition is doing.
5.  Talk to leaders.  In or out of your company, if you have a conversation with someone more successful than yourself it will at least inspire you to improve.  Who knows?  Collaboration may even take place which can motivate you to further success.

Many columns offer advice on furthering your value to your organization; one interesting one we have come across is from Todd Wilms.

In all that 2013 brings you, best of luck and warm wishes.





 
 
What are your strengths?  A typical question used in interviews, and as part of our screening process. Interviewers may ask this to help understand what a person is actually good at doing, or comfortable at doing.  Whether for sales, general office work or management, this question often poses difficulty especially to those people who are still learning how to express themselves in an English language interview.  The meaning of the question is clear, but the trouble comes from how people answer it.

One typical response we often hear:  “I have good communication skills”.  While it appears positive, it leaves us wondering:   what does ‘good’ communication skill actually mean?  Discussions with clients confirms that using subjective language such as good is largely meaningless unless the candidate follows up with real-life examples of their work experience that demonstrate how effective their communication is.  One client explained to us that TOEIC scores (widely used in Japan to demonstrate English comprehension) did not impress him; rather, he preferred to gauge a candidate’s ability face-to-face where he could see how well they performed in an actual conversation, something which TOEIC doesn’t reflect.

Consider this: “I work in an environment where I’m required to speak in English by telephone daily, coordinating our sales team, and to report our sales results to our APAC Director in Singapore each Monday”.  Eliminating the use of ‘good’ and stating your specific activity clarifies your actual responsibilities as well as highlights how well you can explain yourself.  Of course, this is just one example and is not limited to English language learners, but All interviewees.

An article written by Mona Abdel-Halim highlights commonly used expressions in resumes that—if you want to make a better impression—you should avoid.  And a few mock interviews with our consultants can help your performance also.


 
 

Firstly it must be mentioned that when preparing your resume, remember that the goal of the resume is to interest a hiring manager enough to invite you for an interview.  It is only the first step of the interview process, and an important one.

There are different ways to prepare a resume in English for 外資系.  Most commonly used for experienced candidates is a chronological, which means it shows your job history over time.  Usually the latest information is at the top of the resume, continuing back through time, ending with your first job.  Educational background can follow afterward.  For candidates who may have worked at only one company in their career, the same pattern can apply, except that instead of listing experience employer-by-employer, you may list your experience in terms of position or title.

People with limited experience--such as fairly recent graduates--may be better served by creating a functional resume.  In this resume format, functional skills would be listed that to highlight your ability to perform the job being applied for.  If you are applying for an accounting position, for example, you would list your familiarity with certain spreadsheet applications and formats, the number of hours completed in an accounting course or in voluntary/intern usage, and so on.

Unlike on the Japanese version, a recent photograph of yourself is typically not necessary on resumes written in English, and personal information such as hobbies or other interests—not being directly applicable to the position—are not necessary.  However, such information is very valuable to Kumo's recruiting consultants, because it gives a much deeper understanding of a candidate's true interests and abilities and has proved helpful in many cases to find good career matches.

Bear in mind that your resume may contain your goals and personal interests, but must contain the facts of your professional background.  Also, rather than using a standardized format, you may want to tailor the resume depending upon the type of job you apply to.  For example, one job may require strong Excel skills and you may therefore want to highlight that skill more prominently, whereas for another job you may want to highlight telephone sales skills.  One generic resume for all jobs applied to may not result in as many interviews, so consider this.

So, to recap:  while the goal of the interview is to entice a job offer, the purpose of the resume is to obtain the initial interview.  Best of luck!




 
 
This final article addresses the fourth aspect when considering your fit with a company--and also what a hiring manager is considering during the hiring process.  Here we look at a company's culture.


It’s to an employer’s long-term benefit to hire people who will be satisfied with the working conditions.  Hiring someone who isn’t going to be happy with the job may end with the employee leaving for another job.  As any job hunter will prefer to avoid job-hopping in favor of a position that satisfies his interests, finding an employer that provides the right corporate culture is a high priority.

But how to assess a positive corporate culture?  It is difficult to determine without going to interviews and meeting multiple employees of the organization, and indeed it can take weeks or months of actually working there to really understand whether you are comfortable.  After all, corporate policies are one factor that affects corporate culture, but the other important factor is the people who work there.

Official policies and non-policy factors affecting corporate culture can include:

  • Dress code.  This could also include hairstyle, jewelry, accessories, even fingernail art or tattoos.  Tolerance can vary not only by company but by people within the company.
  • Working hours.  Many people expect to put in some unpaid overtime in Japan.  How much is too much for you?
  • Project management organization.  Are meetings conducted more often than necessary, or just enough to facilitate good communications and inter-office relations?  Does it take many weeks and many meetings to enact even the simplest plan, or is management responsive to new ideas?  Is credit given for good work, or do senior workers get the credit (and bonuses)?
  • Office arrangement, e.g. décor, lighting, workstation type.  One European manager noticed that his Japanese employees tended to stack up books and papers in their workstations so they had a personal “cave” which hid them from coworkers.  He implemented workstation organization methods to eliminate this effect, creating a more open environment where people could talk and collaborate more easily.
  • Perks, such as employee canteen or rest areas, gym memberships, access to cafes/restaurants nearby.  Even the neighborhood can affect the workplace mood.
  • Environment within the workplace, such as friendliness of coworkers, noise level, etc. can support or detract from a productive work experience.  By this I mean more about the attitude of people there:  whether they are creating a more fun, or hostile environment, in the way they speak on the phone or to each other.  Do people seem afraid to talk to each other or do they openly share in conversation?


When considering applying for a job at a company, it can be helpful to research the company before the interview process, which can help guide your questions during the interview.  However, reputation of a company in the news is usually based on business/industry challenges, rarely on career-satisfaction assessments.  One mistake I often need to coach my candidates on is not to ask their friends’ opinions of the company.  Why?  Because typically, their friends have never worked or interviewed there!  Too many people pass up on excellent career opportunities based on gossip, rather than spend an hour getting to know the company in an interview.  Any interview will provide an opportunity for deeper insight, even when initial impressions are ambivalent.  

Asking about employee turnover might give you an idea of employee morale within the company, but it could also reflect the normal business cycle or a depressed economy.  There are an unlimited number of questions you could ask to help you determine corporate culture, and each case is rather different.  So, research well, find a good career coach, and keep an open mind.


 
 
Manageability: Is this someone we can manage? Will he take direction? Will he work well with members of our organization or will he create problems that someone else will have to deal with?

In taking on a new employee—at whatever level, i.e. a baseline employee, a manager, or high-level executive—the company as a whole must feel that the relationship is one where the business runs in a smooth and harmonious manner. As a professional partnership, both parties should be willing to work with the other to work out any differences in style, opinion, etc.

But it is not an equal partnership. An employee who causes headaches within the organization cannot expect to receive respect or support for long. And the organization will pay close attention to every candidate to determine how manageable they are. Examples of “difficult” employees may be found in this article.

So, as a candidate, you may need to reflect on your career history to see if there are patterns of behavior that your managers or coworkers had issue with. Were you often late, for example? Or did you express criticism of others…or perform tasks in ways that conflicted with company policy? Seemingly minor expressions of your personality may have been tolerable by some people, but in the long run may create tension and ultimately lead to reprisal and/or dismissal.   Consider the above examples in more detail:

  • Insurance company employee A typically arrived at his office just before 9:00 a.m. and often a few minutes late. While his overall work was comparable to other employees’, he was not ready to begin morning meetings on time and coworkers often had to wait for him to get ready before continuing with their own workday. He was considered by coworkers to have a disruptive effect on their own workdays.

  • Employee B, a dental hygienist, considered herself to be very friendly, sociable and hardworking. While working with dental patients she would discuss at length her patients’ and her own social activities. Talking about where people were working, their hobbies, families, what kind of music people were listening to, and so on was typical banter in any work environment but she tended to express her dislikes or criticisms…and this was the problem. Telling your patient (your customer) that his choice of music or hairstyle is in bad taste doesn’t encourage repeat business!

  • Finally, employee C, working in the administration department of a pharmaceutical company, didn’t like the new template design in a recently-adopted accounting spreadsheet application. Over a half-year period, she continued to use the old accounting platform, ignoring the new application completely until month-end, when she would scramble to migrate data to the official format. This took extra hours of work, distracted her from other tasks, tied up computer resources and put stress on her coworkers. Repeatedly the president asked her to change her methods…and her reluctance ended up in a restructuring of her duties.

To conclude, as a candidate, any potential employer will be keenly interested to determine whether you will work willingly with company policies, take on training, and respond quickly to direction or criticism. And your flexibility can also determine your longevity within your organization.




 
 
Tips on Job Hunting (Part 2 of 4).  Willingness: Is he Willing to do the job?

The second of the 4-part series of applicant considerations, in which we look at the willingness of a candidate to perform the tasks associated with a position.

In the first part of this series we identified whether candidates are qualified for a position. An applicant may be Able to do the job, but may not be very happy with the duties, and therefore unwilling to stay for very long, or he may request a change in responsibilities. For the company this poses a problem, considering that he was hired to fulfill particular, necessary work roles, and they will now need to replace him.

Knowing that an applicant will not be happy with this position for very long, employers will tend not to consider this candidate further and focus instead on locating a more motivated applicant, one more likely to stay within the position for a longer time. Although in the short term the employer will spend more time interviewing people, this is time invested in long-term, productive hires.

One sales candidate—very interested in a particular company--failed to make it to a second round of interviews because he was unaware of this viewpoint. In the interview he was asked why he was interested in the sales position. He responded by pointing out his experience and market knowledge and mentioned his interest in developing his career in marketing activities. The company rejected him. With a dozen other candidates clearly aware that the available job was a sales position, why would they consider him if his true interest was in marketing? Being qualified, the candidate was surprised and disappointed at being rejected. However, after speaking with a consultant he came to understand that by expressing his interest in non-sales activities he had hurt his chances for the position.

As an applicant, you need to determine whether you will actually enjoy the job 'as-is' or if the employer can be flexible to your interests.


 
 
Tips on Job Hunting (Part 1 of 4)

You decide to apply for a new position. Finding something interesting, you send your resume or ask an agent to apply on your behalf.   You are invited for an interview, which seems to go well, but are rejected after that first interview.   What could have gone wrong?

In this series of tips, we will look at four areas that HR managers and interviewers are judging candidates, as they review your resume and meet people in person.  These categories are:  Ability, Willingness, Manageability, and Culture.  These criteria can be useful in identifying what makes someone a good “fit” for a job.  At this time, we will look at the first part, Ability.

Ability
In considering you for the position, an employer will heavily gauge your fit for a job opening on the information in your resume.  The information in your resume will strongly affect whether an interview is granted, and remember:  an interview at a gaishikei is No guarantee of a job offer. 

Your resume is therefore the first stage where the employer can assess your abilities.  So, what is ability?  Simply put, it's whether or not a person can perform tasks without assistance.  Some skills may have been learned on the job such as speaking politely on the phone, managing large teams, or training such as operating equipment or advanced Excel courses.  For all skills, the questions in the interviewers' minds are:

  • Is the information within the resume accurate?

  • Does the applicant have the necessary skills and qualifications to do the required work?

  • CAN he do the job?

Skills may include whether the candidate has the potential to do the job; in other words, that he has the ability to learn new skills necessary to perform tasks independently with little further training.  However, organizations using headhunting agencies are generally unwilling to consider applicants who require much additional training; this involves extra expenditure of time and capital.

Ability is typically first in the checklist for HR managers and interviewers to weed out weaker candidates, and to verify the depth of knowledge that an applicant has in a certain area.  So how much information should you include on your resume?  For example, stating three years of experience in a general administration position may be enough to interest an employer interested in hiring an office administrator.  However, if the job requires working knowledge of payroll systems and you have no responsibility handling such functions, the process will not continue further once the employer realizes your limitation. 

Also know the limits of your skills.  Functional knowledge of a language is not the same as fluency in business communications, for example.  In short:  if you cannot do the job, or more importantly, if the employer does not Believe you can do the job, then you will not likely be considered, especially where job descriptions outline a need for a period of experience.  That said, if the company is willing to train you, then it may be to your advantage to apply.

To sum up:  understand before any interview what your skills are, whether they are learned formally or through on-the-job experience.  Good luck!