One way to stand out from the crowd.

Looking for that next job can be hard. You spend time dressing up your resume and putting together cover letters, but are still not sure if it will be enough to get you through to an interview. And once you do have an interview scheduled, you worry about whether you’ll answer the questions well and say the right things. It can end up feeling like we’re playing a game where we don’t know the rules, or even where the goals are! Thankfully there is one relatively simple principle that will help you stand out from the crowd.

Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager for the moment. What is it that they want? Obviously they want to hire someone who can do the job well. But how can you prove to them that you’re up to the challenge? Inherent in any recruitment decision is risk - risk that the person isn’t right for the job or can’t actually do what they said they could do. As the candidate, there is an opportunity to help reduce this risk. The more we can provide actual evidence of our capability and experience, the better.

The principle that makes all the difference when reducing risk is “past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour”. It’s hard not to say this without a Dr Phil drawl - it was one of the TV host’s favourite catch phrases. But the principle does ring true. The best predictor of how someone will behave in a particular situation is what they have done in similar situations in the past. Applying this principle to recruitment led to the rise of behavioural interviewing.

You’ve probably been through a behavioural interview before. The interviewer asks you to provide specific examples of how you’ve approached situations in the past. For example “Tell me about a time when you’ve dealt with a difficult customer” would lead you to talk about an actual time when you’ve done just that. The interviewer then explores how you approached the situation and the outcome. As a hiring manager, you’re always going to be more confident in the person who can describe what they have actually done, versus the person who speaks hypothetically about what they would do. Even when an interviewer asks you for a hypothetical example about what you might do in a situation, you’re always going to be more convincing if you provide an actual example of when you’ve done it before. In this way we can help reduce the risk as perceived by the manager who is conducting the interview. So make sure you prepare for an interview by considering relevant examples of where you’ve demonstrated the kinds of capabilities that are required for the role. Having half a dozen examples up your sleeve will help you to demonstrate that you’re up for the challenge of the job.

But providing evidence of our relevant experience and capability doesn’t have to be limited to the interview. Many people make the mistake of using their resume to simply describe the jobs they have had in the past. The resume reads like cut and pasted sections of position descriptions. For a hiring manager, this brings with it a whole lot of risk. How do I know they were any good at that job? Did they ever go beyond what was required? How does this relate to the role I’m hiring for? Applying our principle to resumes means that actual examples are always going to be more compelling than simply listing job responsibilities. You might list some of the successes that you’ve had in each role, or perhaps how you have made an extra contribution to the organisation over and above just doing your job. It is important in this process to always keep the hiring manager in mind. Think about using tailored examples that best relate to the role you’re applying for, rather than simply printing off the same resume for every job. You might also highlight some of the key examples through your cover letter.

Reducing risk for the hiring manager is about using clear and compelling examples of how you’ve already demonstrated the capabilities required for the role. I trust these ideas will help you stand out from the crowd for the next role you apply for.

Staff meetings that work - the cure for performance appraisal phobia!

People hate performance appraisals. Okay, maybe that's a generalisation - there might be 1% of people out there that get excited about sitting down for that typically 6 monthly or 12 monthly review of their performance with their manager. And there's probably 1% of managers who also look forward to conducting performance appraisals with their team members. But performance appraisals are one of those 'must do' activities that both managers and team members tend to dislike.

To counteract this, we often focus on the performance appraisal process and content. Making sure we look not just at results ('what' they achieve), but also 'how' the person approaches their work and interacts with customers and colleagues. We might try to gather feedback from multiple sources. We might try to balance discussions about the year past with time to think about the year ahead. But we still tend to run into these pitfalls:

  • The appraisal is a high stakes 'event' which tends to add pressure to both the manager and team member
  • The manager and team member haven't built a strong relationship, which tends to reduce the quality of feedback and the likelihood of acceptance
  • There's a lack of focus and unclear goals around the job - by the time we discover this during the appraisal it's too late to do anything about the year that has gone by
  • It's a one-way conversation with too much pressure placed on one person - typically (but not always) the manager - to drive the process
  • Feedback isn't balanced - we either focus too much on the positives or on constructive/corrective feedback
I think the answer is actually pretty simple. It's about having 1:1 meeting structures that make performance discussions a more frequent occurrence, and that address the issues above. 

I recommend having monthly 1:1 meetings with team members, along with monthly team meetings as a group (more on the team meetings another time). I scheduled these meetings in our calendars and they took priority over the other day-to-day issues that might come up.

The structure for 1:1 meetings below is what I've found to work with people and teams that I've managed. You might want to vary this structure, but hopefully it will provide some ideas for you to think about.

1:1 Meeting Agenda

  • What you're currently doing well
  • What you think you need to work on

Training and development


Action items
  • Review previous month
  • Any new items

The expectation with this monthly 1:1 meeting format is that both the manager and the team member come to the meeting prepared. Both will think about performance - what's going well, and where the person might need to focus more attention. The meeting provides a chance to discuss these areas. We can also focus on the priorities that we see for the coming month. This often helps to clarify differing expectations. Sometimes the team member might highlight a priority the manager wasn't aware of. Sometimes the manager might be able to clarify a priority that the team member isn't placing enough emphasis on. Each month we can look at training and development - not just formal training, but opportunities to be exposed to new parts of the business or to shadow another team member in their work. 'Other' really covers anything else the manager or team member want to discuss. It might include frustrations or challenges the team member is facing that the manager can help to 'unblock'. It might include updates needed to the position description to reflect changes in the accountabilities of the role. We then discuss any action items noted from the last meeting, or add any new items that the manager or team member need to follow up. 

After each meeting I then typed up some brief notes under each of these areas and shared these with the team member in a document. This document grew across the year, with each meeting as a new page. This document formed the main input into the formal performance appraisal. By doing this, the annual performance appraisal became little more than a confirmation of what had been discussed through the year. Any areas that weren't clear had already been discussed. It reduced the pressure on both me and my team members, and helped us to explore career and development opportunities on a more frequent basis.

I found these monthly 1:1 meetings something to look forward to. They were a great chance to better understand my team members that I relied upon to produce results. I hope you find these ideas helpful in improving your ability to manager performance of your team members across the year.