A Cautionary Story to Speakers: Know Your Audience

Every so often I get invited to a salon. For those not acquainted with the term, it refers to a discussion group in someone’s home. (Let’s face it, what would I need with the other kind?!)

I enjoy it. There are usually 10 people, five regulars and five special invitees of which I have been in the latter category. Someone takes the lead and facilitates the discussion. Each meeting is devoted to a single topic. I’ve led discussions on gun control and “same sex marriage.” A vote follows healthy debate and discussion. The only condition is that everyone respects everyone else’s right to their opinion. And the rule is, “What is said at the salon stays at the salon,” or, if you prefer movies over commercials, “Never ask me about my salon!” In any event, the facilitator begins by expressing his or her opinion and then “proving” it. Their “proof” is what is discussed or debated.

So, for example (and not for an on-line debate in which I will not participate), when it came to “same sex marriage,” I said it was a legal fallacy created because of a societal need, akin to declaring someone who has been missing for at least seven years “legally dead.” So two men or two women who “marry” are “legally married” but not really married, just as a man or woman who is declared “legally dead” may not really be dead but may in fact be very much alive. (That one I won; we tied on gun control.)

The last salon I was invited to dealt with the environment. We had a guest speaker. As you can imagine, when she arrived we were all introduced. Before we sat down at the dining room table where we always meet, we were having coffee (well, they were, I never touch the stuff) and the speaker asked, “Is there anyone here whose business in 100% sustainable?”

Me being me, I naturally said, “Mine is. Everyone of the candidates who I submit to my executive recruiting clients and everyone of my career counseling clients, without exception, is 100% biodegradable.” I thought it was funny. Everyone else thought it was funny, except for the speaker. She could not hide her contempt. The woman just had no sense of humor. (It’s very awkward when there are 11 people in a room, ten of whom are laughing and one is stone-faced.)

One of the regulars tried (and failed) to ease the tension. We took our seats and, as the facilitator, the woman made her case. Problem was, she did not realize that every person around the table researches the topic and comes prepared, not just with opinion, but with facts. The facilitator has to defend their position which, and this is what makes it interesting, no one knows in advance.

Needless to say, she was unsuccessful in making her case, arguing instead of debating. As she was a guest who, in addition to lacking a sense of humor also could not tolerate anyone disagreeing with her, at the end we did not have a vote to decide the issue. No one has ever been embarrassed at the salon; I doubt anyone ever will be.

When she left our host apologized. She said she had made a mistake in not better vetting the speaker. We assured her she had nothing about which to apologize but then we got into an interesting discussion when one of the regulars asked the host what the speaker had asked about us. “Nothing,” was her reply.

We all knowingly looked at each other. Everyone in the room does public speaking. We shared how we get to know our audiences. We all have different methods. But we all do it so that we can make our presentations meaningful.

Bottom line: If you do not know to whom you are speaking you will achieve nothing, be it job offer, sale, or debate victory.

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that!

Bruce is a recognized authority on job search and career issues, having been quoted in over 700 articles, appearing in some 500 publications, across the United States and in more than 30 foreign countries. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention, including television appearances on Fox Business Network and Headline News (CNN).

In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.

An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

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Identifying and Eliminating the One Person Who is Blocking Your Job Search or Career Move

Every so often I like to read books about topics about which I am curious, knowing full well that I will not understand them. So when I learned that Einstein had written a book meant to explain his theories to the public, I ordered it. If I say I understood 25% I would be bragging and exaggerating! But it was not a waste of time. (Get it? Time. The fourth dimension! Pause for laughter.) It’s good to get out of your own head every now and again.

That is especially true with a job search. The majority of everything you do will be unsuccessful. Most of the employers you contact will not respond. Most of the people with whom you network will be of no assistance. But the minority will respond. The minority will be helpful. You will get that job or start that new career. The problem is, unless you are really lucky and get that new job quickly, it’s going to take a while. That will cause frustration and frustration leads to self-doubt. Self-doubt leads to paralysis.

Most of the resumes I receive start with self-praise.

Highly accomplished manager and sole contributor with deep understanding of best practices to support all channels of asset management distribution. Deep management team-building and mentoring capabilities. Extremely fluid at forging trans-departmental relationships and strong collaborations in highly matrixed organizations. Excellent contract negotiation skills. Creative problem solver skilled at developing effective messaging with internal and external clients. Keen sense of priorities and projects ownership to ensure successful completion on time and on budget.

That’s an exact quote and a great example of what I am talking about. Notice how great she thinks she is but, alas, no mention of a single actual accomplishment. If she had come to me for assistance, the nonsense would have been replaced with a few tangible facts about which employers would actually care. She may be as good as she thinks she is, but, to use a journalism term, if so, she buried the lead.

There is a reason why so many job seekers make this mistake. They are focused on themselves. They want employers to know how great they are. Well, no employer cares how great you think you are. Employers want to be confident that you can solve their problems. That is why self-praise needs to be replaced with selected accomplishments.

But even that is no guarantee of a job offer. And most people will still ignore you. There may be better candidates. You will not always be the best. In fact, you may be the best only once, which is all you need to be.

The problem is, as stated, rejection leads to frustration. You then go from thinking you are the best to thinking you are worthless and your career has been for nought. You start obsessing. You panic. You can’t think straight. You can’t figure out what you are doing wrong.

You then become your own worst enemy. You can’t see the forest for the trees. You no longer have any confidence. You forget about all your successes. You are the one standing in your own way!

That is when you have to step back. Unless you are in marketing or sales, you are not an expert in marketing or sales. And marketing and sales is what a successful job search is all about. You could be actually the greatest IT professional in human history, but the worst in human history making the case for your employment. There is no contradiction between the two. This is not what you do!

When that happens, when you reach that stage, you have no choice but to seek outside help. Of course, I am pitching my services. I’d be lying and would lose all credibility if I pretended otherwise. But before spending money (you don’t want to know how much some people have told me they have spent on job search assistance and career counseling!) spend time with people you respect. Notice I did not say “friends and family.” You might like or love them, but you may not respect them. And if you don’t respect them, you won’t listen to them and, just as importantly, they won’t listen to you, because they probably don’t respect you either. The person needs to be able to take a step back, forget all they know about you, and let you talk freely and candidly about your career. They first have to listen to you. Then they have to ask questions you might not like but which you will have to answer. And then you have to listen to them. You don’t necessarily have to agree with them, but you have to listen.

I have found that people sometimes ignore their most valuable traits. They take them for granted and don’t think they are a big deal when, in fact, they are. Ironically, those are the traits that may appeal to a new employer and are usually the ones that will lead to a new career. But to find them, you have to stand back and let the person with whom you are meeting see both your forest and your trees.

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that!

Bruce is a recognized authority on job search and career issues, having been quoted in over 700 articles, appearing in some 500 publications, across the United States and in more than 30 foreign countries. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention, including television appearances on Fox Business Network and Headline News (CNN).

In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.

An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.